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Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force (often abbreviated to RAF) is the Air Force of the United Kingdom.

Table of contents
1 History of the RAF
2 Current RAF Aircraft
3 RAF on the Ground
4 See also
5 Other Nations

History of the RAF

The Royal Flying Corps was originally formed by Royal Warrant on May 13, 1912 superseding the Air Branch of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Naval Air Service was formed shortly after the outbreak of World War I. Both services saw heavy action during the war. On April 1, 1918 the RAF was formed by amalgamation of the RFC and the RNAS under the supervision of the Air Ministry.

Between the World Wars the RAF was responsible for mail and armed forces services, but saw little military action. Of particular note was 1928's air evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan, the first operation of its kind. This period also saw the formation of the major flying schools that still provide its service personnel.

An important event during that time period was a reorganisation of the RAF's major commands. In 1936, the familiar Coastal Command, Fighter Command and Bomber Command of WWII were formed.

A defining period of the RAF's existence came during the Battle of Britain. Over the summer of 1940 the RAF held off the Luftwaffe in an air war, perhaps the first of its kind, contributing immensely to the delay and cancellation of Germany's planned invasion of England (Operation Sea Lion) and helping to turn the tide of World War II. (See also British military history of World War II.)

The RAF did not have a prominent role in the Korean War, with only a few flying boats taking part. However, the Suez Crisis in 1956 saw a large RAF role, with aircraft mainly flying from Cyprus and Malta. The Konfrontasi against Indonesia in the early 1960s did see use of RAF aircraft, but due to a combination of deft diplomacy and selective ignoring of certain events by both sides, it never developed into a full scale war.

In 1968 the RAF experienced its largest change in administrative structure since 1936 when Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command were combined into the new Strike Command which exists today.

The end of the RAF presence in the east of Asia came in 1971 when the Far East Air Force was disbanded on October 31.

The next large conflict involving the RAF was the Falklands War in 1982. Its most high profile missions in this conflict were the famous Black Buck raids using Avro Vulcans flying from Ascension Island. However, the service did many other things during the conflict, with its helicopters in the Falklands themselves, its Harrier GR3s flying from HMS Hermes, its fighter aircraft protecting Ascension, maritime patrol aircraft scanning the South Atlantic, and tanker and transport fleet helping in the enormous logistical effort required for the war.

In 1991 over 100 RAF aircraft took part in the Gulf War, in virtually every conceivable role. It marked an important turning point in the RAF's history as it was the first time the service had used precision guided munitions in significant amounts. It was initially thought that the RAF would not need to use them, as most of its bombing missions would be at low level. After heavy losses, bombing was switched to medium level, and the venerable Blackburn Buccaneer was rushed to the theatre to provide laser designation for the RAF's Tornados.

The end of the decade saw the much smaller Kosovo War in 1999, which confirmed the shift towards precision guided munitions. The Kosovo conflict was remarkable in that it was the first time a war of such size had been fought with no loss of life on one side. Although smaller than the Gulf War, it was still a medium sized war.

In the 21st century the RAF is trying to keep up with the technological lead of the United States Air Force. Two conflicts have been fought so far, with the RAF taking very much a supporting role in the 2001 conquest of Afghanistan, but centre stage in the 2003 Gulf War II. The latter conflict again saw over 100 fixed wing aircraft deployed, with all weapon firing aircraft capable of dropping smart munitions for the first time.

Provided adequate funding is provided for the RAF over upcoming years it should continue to be one of the most potent air forces in the world. It has a proud record and heritage, and it has powerful aircraft coming on stream in the near future.

Current RAF Aircraft

Many types of aircraft currently serve with the RAF, although there is less variety in the order of battle of the organisation than in previous decades due to the increasing cost of military systems. The types currently in the RAF inventory are:

The codes for what an aircraft does are relatively straight forward, and often similar to the equivalent American ones. The letters after the main alphanumeric code identify minor variants of a particular aircraft. For example, Tornado GR4A's are ground attack aircraft with a tactical reconnaissance capability, whilst Tornado GR4's are pure ground attack aircraft.

For historical aircraft see List of aircraft of the RAF.

RAF on the Ground

Ever since the RAF was created and particularly since World War II, it has been necessary to defend airstrips and to produce non-aircraft anti-air weapons to protect ground units. Originally, machine guns were enough to tear apart the most primitive aircraft. However, higher flying aircraft could only be shot down through the use of high-powered weapons like flak cannons. When aircraft became supersonic, guided weapons were developed; the surface-to-air missile. These are either heat-seeking or radar guided. Both types of missile may be decoyed away from the aircraft, or spoofed. Radar guided missiles are spoofed by chaff, which is small strips of metal which produce false radar returns, and heat-seeking missiles are spoofed by flares, which are produce false heat sources. Modern military aircraft carry both systems, and also warning receivers that let the pilot know if the aircraft is locked onto by a radar, or targeted by a heat seeking missile. The RAF developed the "Rapier" system, comparative to the American "Patriot" system. This system is automatically guided by a system that can recognize, prioritise and target ~80 aircraft at once.

The RAF Regiment was created during WWII to defend RAF airfields from attack. They operate surface-to-air missiles to defend against air attack, and have infantry and light armoured units to protect against ground attack. They are the ground-based units that protect the airstrips from ground based attacks.

See also

Other Nations

There are also the RAAF (Australian) and RNZAF (New Zealand). Before 1968, there was also an RCAF (Canadian), which disappeared when it was amalgamated with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Canadian Army to form the Canadian Forces (CF).