ACC Revives 15th Air Force for Conventional Ops

The Air Force on Aug. 20 revived 15th Air Force as its largest organization overseeing conventional weaponry, giving the World War II-era group new purpose for 21st-century warfare.

Air Combat Command is shifting the fighter jets, battle management aircraft, strike drones, and combat search-and-rescue forces from Ninth and 12th Air Forces under the new 15th Air Force. That umbrella organization will manage daily wing operations so the lower-level officials at 9AF and 12AF can focus on supporting U.S. Central Command and U.S. Southern Command, respectively.

“In addition to organizing, training, and equipping ACC’s conventional forces, this new [numbered air force] will also present a deployable joint task force-capable headquarters,” the command said in a release. That joint task force can manage any air combat resources that are contributed to a collaborative effort, just as 9AF oversaw Airmen who led part of the military’s coronavirus pandemic response under the Army.

Maj. Gen. Chad P. Franks, who previously ran 9AF, will lead 15AF at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. The numbered air force began as a bomber group in the Mediterranean during World War II before taking on other expeditionary and mobility roles in later decades. It was inactivated in 2012 as the 15th Expeditionary Mobility Task Force.

No units will physically move because of the reorganization, and most of the over 45,000 Airmen who work for 15AF will not see changes in their daily operations, ACC said. The command is not considering any other NAF consolidations, according to a spokeswoman.

The changes are intended to streamline aspects like training, tactics, and maintenance that can benefit from bringing similar aircraft together.

Lt. Gen. Gregory M. Guillot, commander of the newly formed 9AF/Air Forces Central Command, gave a nod to AFCENT’s prior experiments with controlling air operations from Shaw rather than its Middle East hub at al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. That sort of split operations could become more of the norm.

“Bringing the headquarters back to Shaw, along with elements of our air operations center, brings additional operational resiliency, ensuring our command can endure any regional crisis,” Guillot said.

Moving 9AF/AFCENT also puts the organization in the same time zone as officials from ACC, CENTCOM, and Army Central, a boon to collaboration as well.

“As 15th Air Force takes on the wings that were previously under 12th Air Force, 12th Air Force will gain the expanded bandwidth required to better focus on their mission as air component to U.S. Southern Command,” ACC boss Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes added. The organization will tackle violent extremism, rogue states, and influence from Russia and China in South and Central America.

Revamping 15AF is ACC’s latest move toward a less bureaucratic setup in the hope of becoming more responsive and effective. Last year, the command combined its intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, cyber offense and defense, and similar forces into a new “information warfare” group as digital combat evolves.

That organization, 16th Air Force, marked the beginning of full operations last month.