While Fifth Air Force traces its roots to the Philippines in the 1940's, U.S. military aviation made its first presence in the region there in March of 1912. Starting with a flight training school near Manila, its presence grew to the establishment of several aero squadrons over the next thirty years.
Then, in September of 1941, the Philippine Department Air Force was created; one month later, its name was changed to the Far East Air Force. It was under this name in which fifth air force saw its first combat action. Within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked US bases in the Philippines, destroying most of the aircraft while they were still on the ground. The remaining aircraft allowed the Far East air force to become the first U.S. Army Air Force unit to take part in combat, conducting defensive operations allowing United States and allied forces to retreat to Australia's northern coast. While in Australia, the Far East Air Force was redesignated Fifth Air Force in 1942 and placed under the command of Major General George Kenney.
Kenney was General Douglas MacArthur's component commander for all allied air services. Under his leadership, Fifth Air Force provided the aerial spearhead for MacArthur's island hopping campaign. Providing an air umbrella for MacArthur, Fifth Air Force was an integral part of the successful campaign to retake New Guinea, the Philippines,. and by war's end, Okinawa. When the war ended, Fifth Air Force had an unmatched record of 3,445 aerial victories, led by the nation's two top fighter aces Major Richard Bong and Major Thomas Mcguire, with 40 and 38 confirmed victories respectively, and two of Fifth Air Force's ten Medal of Honor recipients.
Following the war, Fifth Air Force served as part of the occupation forces in Japan. But in 1950, fifth air force was called upon again. In the early morning hours of June 25th, North Korea launched a sudden, all-out attack against the south. Reacting quickly to the invasion, fifth air force provided air cover over the skies of Seoul. In this first Jet War, Fifth Air Force racked up an unprecedented 14.5 to 1 victory ratio. By the time the truce was signed in 1953, fifth air force had flown over 625,000 missions, downing 953 North Korean and Chinese aircraft, while close air support accounted for 47 percent of all enemy troop casualties. Thirty-eight fighter pilots were identified as aces, including Lieutenant Colonel James Jabara, America's first jet ace; and Captain Joseph McConnell, the leading Korean War ace with 16 confirmed victories. Additionally, four Medals of Honor were awarded to Fifth Air Force members. One other pilot of note was Marine Major John Glenn, who flew for Fifth Air Force as part of an exchange program.
Following the war, Fifth Air Force returned its headquarters to Japan. Not only concerned with maintaining a strong tactical posture for the defense of both Japan and South Korea, Fifth Air Force played a critical role in helping the establishment of the Japan Air Self Defense Force as well as the Republic of Korea Air Force. These and other peacetime efforts lasted a decade before war clouds once again developed in the Pacific.
This time, the area of concern was Southeast Asia, beginning in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis. Fifth air force furnished aircraft, Aircrews, Support personnel, and supplies throughout the eight years of combat operations in South Vietnam and Laos.
Since 1972, the Pacific Region has seen relative calm, thanks in large part to the deterrent role Fifth Air Force has played in this part of the world. But that doesn't mean fifth air force hasn't been active in other roles. We have played active or supporting roles in a variety of issues ranging from being first on the scene at the KAL shoot down in 1983 to deploying personnel and supplies for the Persian Gulf war in 1990.
During this time span, the size of fifth air force changed as well. With the activation of Seventh Air Force in 1986, fifth left the Korean Peninsula and focused its energy on continuing the growing bilateral relationship with Japan.
The Fifth Air Force's efforts also go beyond combat operations. Fifth Air force has reacted to natural disasters in Japan and abroad. These efforts include the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and Super Typhoon Paka which hit Guam in 1997. Fifth Air Force has reached out to provide assistance to victims of floods, Typhoons, Volcanoes, and Earthquakes throughout the region.
Fifth Air Force's mission is three-fold. First, Fifth Plans, Conducts, Controls, and Coordinates Air Operations in accordance with tasks assigned by the PACAF Commander. Fifth Air Force maintains a level of readiness necessary for successful completion of directed military operations. And last, but certainly not least, Fifth Air Force assists in the mutual defense of Japan and enhances regional stability by planning, exercising, and executing joint air operations in partnership with Japan. To achieve this mission, Fifth Air Force maintains its deterrent force posture to protect both U.S. and Japanese interests, and conducts appropriate air operations should deterrence fail.
Units that fall under 5 AF:
35th Fighter Wing
374th Airlift Wing
605th Air Operations Group
605th Air Operations Squadron
605th Air Intelligence Squadron
605th Air Support Squadron
605th Air Communications Flight
20th Operational Weather Squadron