eli5: Why does the US Military have airplanes in multiple branches (Navy, Marines etc) as opposed to having all flight operations handled by the Air Force exclusively?

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eli5: Why does the US Military have airplanes in multiple branches (Navy, Marines etc) as opposed to having all flight operations handled by the Air Force exclusively?

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Anonymous 0 Comments

To streamline the process and for different mission sets. Take the Navy for example. They have fighters like the F/A-18 that has to be able to take off and land from an aircraft carrier and perform air to air and air to ground combat missions. A carrier capable aircraft needs very sturdy landing gear to absorb the harsh landings at sea and equipment to launch from the catapult. It also needs special materials to be corrosion resistant. An Air Force F-15 doesn’t need any of that and it would be wasteful to incorporate it. The Marines are a bit strange as they are under the department of the Navy and are closely associated with them. However the Marines have a more particular mission of being an expeditionary force that will fight on land wherever they are needed. To support those troops requires their own smaller Air Force that they have control over.

By splitting up the branches and providing them with their own aircraft they can specialize on their own missions and their own funding.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It”s hard enough to coordinate operations within the same division of the same branch. The further apart the units are separated you have to start considering differing logistics, funding, and directives. It’s just easier to have your own planes supporting your own people.

Anonymous 0 Comments


Anonymous 0 Comments

For a more ELI5 answer…

The US military has a lot of planes that do a lot of different things. Because of that, it’s easier to keep them with their branches who need to use them for their specific mission.

Just like how it’s best for everyone to have their own clothes in their room. We could keep them all in one room in one pile, but it’s better everyone keeps them in their own room in their drawers and closets.

That way you don’t have siblings taking each others clothes, not even the important ones, it would just suck if you didn’t have any socks.

For a slightly less ELI5…

Because there’s so many planes, you’re going to have divid the massive all encompassing air branch into different departments or whatever. There’s also competing demands and no one wants to do without. Famously the Air Force doesn’t like doing close combat support, preferring strategic operations and interdiction.

You also just have highly specialized air frames, like those that can land on carriers and survive being launched off catapults on carriers.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The different branches have pretty different missions and that means the missions for the aircraft are pretty different. On the surface, that means the aircraft themselves are often different to accommodate that – the Army has big cargo haulers, the Navy gets short takeoff/landing and heavier gear to land on carriers, the Air Force gets long-range strategic bombers.

But that also means the chain of command should be kept internal. It’s a lot easier for the Navy to tell Navy planes what to do, following the naval chain of command than it would be for the Navy to call up the Air Force, figure out who in their chain of command can give the order for the plane they need, then ask them to issue that order, and then have that person issue the order. Of course, there’s still going to be strategic cooperation from the branches, but *tactically*, in the moment, it’s just much easier for them to coordinate within the branch.

So, for example, say the Army needs to march in and occupy a particular area. In order to do that, the need their transports to safely get there, and in order to do *that* an enemy airbase needs to be taken out and then a secure forward operating base established. The Air Force will send a strategic long range bombers to destroy the enemy air base, and in order to protect the bombers they coordinate internally to maintain air superiority. Once the base is destroyed, the Navy will move in and maintain a closer presence, securing the air space with their own fighters and using their ships to transport vital materiel. The Marines deploy from the ships to hold the beachhead, using their aircraft like Ospreys. With everything established, the Army starts rolling in with C-130s. Attack helicopters hang around to provide immediate close air support.

There are also budgetary reasons. Each branch gets its own budget from Congress and it’s easier to split up the cost of very expensive aircraft across all of the branches so they can get what they need.

Anonymous 0 Comments


Anonymous 0 Comments

Historically the branches don’t get along well with parallel command structures and competing budgets. When Airplanes came out there was the Navy (with subset of marines) and the Army. Both developed their independent air branches with independent mission sets. 

After WW2, the US Air Force was spun into its own separate branch, but fulfills all or most of those duties for the Army: cargo, paratrooper transport, and fixed wing air support. After the Army and Air Force Split up, a new aircraft was developed: the helicopter. We’ll the Army looked at it’s utility for the battlefield and wrangled to retain control for light cargo, transport, and even close air support and attack roles. So today the Army and Air Force have a guideline of on the battlefield if it’s fixed wing it’s air force, and if it’s rotorcraft it’s Army. This is changing slightly with the new tilt rotor for the Army. 

The air force operates all long range bombers and missiles. That’s a unique role set.

Planes for the Navy almost universally have to be carrier capable, and that’s an engineering set that would limit all Air Force planes. There’s video comparing Navy and air force landing, the Navy hits the runway hard, because on carriers they gotta get that hook it (though it’s an automatic flight controller these days) while air force very lightly lands, and have runways that are miles long. 

The Marines meanwhile sort of get the Navy handouts, but have both choppers and vtol fighters. They’re meant to operate more or less as a standalone fast response force, so everything is fast to deploy and mobile.

Now outside of combat all branches operate civilian type aircraft for administration type purposes. 

Also if you count choppers, the US Army is the second largest air force in the world, not the Navy, iirc. They have a lot of choppers.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Consolidating aviation would definitely make sense from a budget and efficiency perspective. We basically have four aviation supply chains right now. The short answer is, we do this because the United States can afford it.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because they perform different specialized roles in support of the other operations that are specific to that branch. The Air Force handles general aviation, bombers, drones, etc, but the Navy needs combat air patrol to protect ships, the marines need close air support for troops, the army needs anti-tank gunships, etc. All of these need to be well-coordinated with other elements of a given operation, and that’s much easier to do within the same branch/chain of command.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The different services don’t trust each other to provide what they need.

in the 1920s the Royal Air Force took control of naval aviation and starved it of assets so badly that the primary strike aircraft for the Royal Navy’s carriers at the beginning of WW2 was a slow biplane. The Navy eventually got control of their aircraft.

Then the RAF did it again in the 1990s and screwed the Navy again by taking control of all Harriers and then F35s under Joint Force Harrier where they did everything possible to cut the Navy out of control of their own fixed wing assets.

So yeah, it’s hard to blame the other services for wanting their own aircraft that aren’t under USAF control having seen that.