Army Vs. Air Force
General Military Questions

Army Vs. Air Force

The Army and Air Force are both important components of the United States Military.

The Army is the oldest fighting force, while the Air Force is one of the newest.

Both the Army and the Air Force support the United States in offensive and defensive air and ground operations.

While they both fall under the Department of Defense and Title 10 operations, there are several differences.

Continue reading for five Army vs. Air Force differences and details on both entities.

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What is the US Army?

Army Special Operations
Army soldier assigned to US Army Special Operations Command fires an MK-47 Strike 40mm grenade launcher. Image: wikimedia

The Army is a Department of Defense military branch that protects the United States, its citizens, and its interests.

It was founded in 1775 and has been one of the main fighting forces since that time.

The Army is comprised of a diverse group of individuals in roles such as civil affairs, doctors, lawyers, pilots, infantry, and many more.

The Army has active, reserve, and guard units that all work together to support the US around the world.

How big is the US Army?

As of September 2021, the Army totaled 1,004,299.

Of this number 482,416 were on active duty, including cadets.

In FY2024, 78% of the active duty Army are enlisted members, while 22% are officers.

The Reserve component holds 184,358 and the National Guard has 337,525.

The Army holds over 140 MOS positions with capabilities in air, water, and ground support.

What does the US Army do?

The Army supports operations around the world.

They support ground operations with intelligence gathering, logistics support, and administrative support.

The Army has multiple tanks and fighting vehicles to provide offensive and defensive attacks, as well as patrols and protection.

They will support air operations with helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Army personnel also run special missions and have elite groups such as the Rangers and Special Forces.

What are their responsibilities?

The Army is responsible for completing Title 10 duties.

This means that they enact on any requests that match the National Defense Strategy.

They are to be readily deployable, able to fight and win in any conflict situation.

According to the Army’s mission, Army personnel are responsible for providing prompt and sustained land dominance by defeating ground forces and controlling adversary land, resources, and populations.

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What is the Army’s Command structure?

The US Army Command Structure includes command units of various sizes.

The largest command structure is called a Field Army and it can hold over 90,000 soldiers.

The smallest unit is called a fire team with four soldiers.

Army organization chart

Each unit is comprised of smaller unit components.

The structure includes fire teams, squads, platoons, companies, battalions, brigades, divisions, corps, and field armies.

Each unit is commanded by a person of a different rank.

What is the Air Force?

us air force vs us army

The Air Force is a military branch under the Department of Defense.

It is capable of air, space, and cyberspace attack capabilities.

The Air Force consists of active, reserve, and guard units.

This branch is constantly working toward technological advances that allow them to fly faster, reach further, and be prepared in any of their primary focus areas.

How big is the Air Force?

The Air Force includes 328,888 Active Duty members.

Included in those 328,888 members are 60,567 officers and 257,293 enlisted members.

These figures do not include the Guard, Reserve, or members of the Air Force Academy.

The Air Force currently has 12,323 pilots with 20% of their total force currently overseas.

In the Reserve component, there are 70,570 members and 108,483 in the Air National Guard.

Approximately 24% of active duty members are officers, and 76% are enlisted. 

What does the Air Force do?

The US Air Force currently has the largest air force in the world.

The Air Force provides protection for the United States on the ground, in the air, and above the sky.

Their mission is to, “Fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”

Advancements in Air Force technology have led to the ability to fly faster than the speed of sound, reach areas previously untouchable with robotics, and guide precision weapons with the largest GPS constellation in history.

Advanced technology allows for the USAF to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions to protect US assets around the world.

Air Force tactical aircraft include fighters, strike fighters, and attack planes.

They can create strikes, counter strikes, and track strikes on land and in the air.

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What are their responsibilities?

The Air Force is responsible for protecting the skies, space, and cyberspace.

They use a number of satellites to coordinate and protect the United States.

Ground responsibilities include mission support, maintenance, cyber security protection, and intelligence gathering.

The National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2020 launched the new Space Force under the Department of the Air Force.

This new possibility will increase Air Force responsibilities, size, and jobs.

What is the Air Force’s Command structure?

Air Force Satellite Launch
Air Force Satellite launch. Image:

The Air Force has a similar structure to the Army.

The smallest structure is considered a section and the largest is considered a Wing, or Numbered Air Force.

In between the two, you will find squadrons, flights, and groups.

All ranging from over a dozen to a few thousand.

The Department of the Air Force falls under the President and Secretary of Defense.

It consists of Military Departments and Unified Commands.

The Major Commands include:

  • Air Combat Command (ACC)
  • Air Education and Training Command (AETC)
  • Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC)
  • Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC)
  • Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC)
  • Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)
  • Air Mobility Command (AMC)
  • Pacific Air Forces (PACAF)
  • United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA)

Difference #1: Responsibilities

Both the Army and the Air Force have aircraft and support ground operations.

They also both battle targets through cyberspace.

However, their main responsibilities differ.

The Army is primarily responsible for ground operations and provides support to ground operations through their manned and unmanned aircraft use.

They do support cyber security, but that is one of the main functions of the Air Force.

The main responsibility of the Air Force is air, space, and cyberspace.

The Air Force does have ground operations, but the duties of their ground operators include mechanical maintenance, medical care, policing, and other support roles.

Another major responsibility that the Army does not have is space operations.

The Air Force runs a large network of satellites and is expanding its space program.

Difference #2: Deployments

Both Army and Air Force individuals can deploy.

Specific jobs, the needs of the specific branch, as well as many other factors can have an impact on who will deploy.

The average deployment length in the Army is roughly nine months, while the Air Force’s average deployment length is roughly four and a half months.

This is due to a number of factors including how they support operations and the ability of the Air Force to change out units as a whole.

Deployment length is not the only difference in deployments — locations also vary.

Army members are more likely to be deployed directly to combat areas (over 80% of deployed troops), while just over 40% of Air Force members were staged directly in combat areas.

Air Force members were more likely to be staged in strategic locations outside of the combat area or other known locations.

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Difference #3: Mission

Both the Air Force and Army fall under the Department of Defense, but their missions differ in strategy.

The Army has a mission to, “…deploy, fight and win” by providing a prompt and sustained land force.

Their mission includes seizing and controlling land and providing ground attack missions.

The Army has a mission that focuses on combat and tactics.

The Air Force’s mission is to, “…fly fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”

This mission includes being superior to other Air Forces and being technically advanced.

Air Force missions tend to be more strategically focused than tactical.

Difference #4: Aircraft

The Army employs a multitude of helicopters, including the Apache attack helicopter. Image:

The Army’s air force consists mostly of helicopters, while the Air Force consists mostly of planes/jets.

The Army currently has five types of helicopters:

  • AH-64 Apache
  • UH-60 Black Hawk
  • CH-47 Chinook
  • UH-72 Lakota
  • MH-6 Little Bird

They have a C-12 Huron fixed-wing aircraft as well as the unmanned aerial vehicles MQ-1 Gray Eagle and RQ-7 Shadow 200.

The Air Force has dozens of aircraft types.

These types include helicopters, fixed-wing, and unmanned aerial vehicles as well.

The complexity and range of aircraft types has also resulted in Air Force pilot training being lengthier than Army pilot training.

Difference #5: Positions

The types of positions in the Army and Air Force differ, as well as the number.

Currently, the Army has over 150 different MOSs.

These positions are broken into branches and fields.

Army positions are broader and cover more areas.

The Army has one of the more diverse career field opportunities out of any military branch.

The Air Force has just over 130 positions in nine different areas.

Air Force positions are more specific and are generally more technical.

The majority of positions involve aviation, either piloting or maintenance. 

Another large segment of Air Force jobs relates to information systems technology and electronics because of its focus on cyber warfare.

Because the Air Force is smaller in size, has fewer available positions, and has higher entry-testing requirements, it is also generally harder to get into.

This may change as the Space Force is developed.


Air Force and Army Deploy Strategy
The Army and Air Force meet several times a year for a Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise to go over abilities to deploy. Image:

The Army and Air Force both support the United States at home and abroad.

While they may vary in overall size, there are several other differences.

Above we covered what the Army and Air Force are, their size, what their responsibilities are, and what they do.

We also discussed the differences in responsibilities, deployments, missions, aircraft, and positions.

Regardless of their differences, both are vital to the success of United States defense.

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Army Structure

Air Force Demographics

Deployment Lengths/Areas

Rob V.
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General FAQ

What is the difference between the Air Force and the Army?

The most significant difference between the Air Force and the Army is their respective areas of responsibility. The Army is land-based and is a ground fighting force. The Air Force seeks to retain air superiority and conduct aerial warfare.

Does the Army or Air Force pay more?

All branches of the U.S. military pay according to rank and time in service. However, promotions in the Army can sometimes be faster than the USAF, which leads to increased pay.

Which is harder – Army Basic Training or Air Force Basic Training?

Lasting 10 weeks of rigorous physical training and challenging warfare drill, Army BCT can be easily said to be harder than Air Force Basic. USAF basic training increased basic training from 6 to 8 weeks in 2008.

Is the Air Force part of Army?

Historically, the Air Force was established as the Army Air Forces but was organized as a separate branch of the U.S. military as part of the National Security Act of 1947.

Which is easier to get into, the Air Force or the Army?

With more openings and less stringent requirements, it’s easier to enlist in the Army than the Air Force. The Army minimum ASVAB score is 31, and you will need to score a 36 to join the Air Force.

Originally posted on 01/23/20

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