Established in 1921, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is the second-oldest independent Air Force in the world.

Early History and World War I

Military aviation came of age during World War I when airships and early aircraft were principally used for reconnaissance. Australia’s four Australian Flying Corps (AFC) squadrons were part of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and were attached to larger British Royal Flying Corps / Royal Air Force formations.

During World War I, 800 officers and 2,840 men served in the AFC and 175 lost their lives. Many AFC veterans helped to lay the groundwork for the future Royal Australian Air Force and after the war; others would enter industry to make significant contributions to civil aviation.

During 1920, the AFC was replaced by the Australian Air Corps, which in turn became the Royal Australian Air Force on 31 March 1921.

World War II

In World War II, Australian aircrew fought in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; over the North Atlantic, the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean; India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, China, the Netherland East Indies, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines and Borneo. They also fought over Australia, its territories, and its approaches.

In late 1944, the RAAF peaked at over 182,000 personnel and 6,200 aircraft in 61 squadrons. In 1945, Australia had the fourth-largest air force in the world (after the USA, USSR and UK).

Over 215,000 men and women served between 1939-45, and 9,870 RAAF personnel lost their lives. Over 55 per cent of these deaths occurred in the air war against Germany over Europe.

Recent Conflicts and Peacekeeping

Air Force personnel have since served with distinction in Korea, Malaya, the ‘Confrontation’, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are also very proud of our role in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions throughout the world, including Bougainville, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Somalia and the Sudan, in which many hundreds of RAAF personnel have been involved.

Since 1945, over 60 RAAF personnel have lost their lives in conflict or through accidents during operations. Globally, Air Force has between 500 and 700 people on operations each day, contributing to coalition operations, peacekeeping and humanitarian and disaster relief.


Air Force employs about 14,000 men and women, supported by 4,000 Air Force Reservists and 800 civilian public servants at a range of offices and 11 major bases across Australia.

Air Force works closely with the Navy, Army and our regional friends and international partners to deliver operations around the globe.

This year, as Air Force remembers 100 years since World War I, we commemorate those that have served before us. We also take the opportunity to reflect on how far military aviation has advanced.

Aircraft have become increasingly complex and capable over time, and Air Force evolves constantly to keep pace with technological change and innovation. Air Force works closely in partnership with other Defence Groups and industry to sustain its air power capabilities. As the global strategic environment changes, so too does Air Force.

It is the personnel of the Royal Australian Air Force who have been willing to serve Australia every day that has enabled Air Force to continually innovate and retain our reputation as the best small air force in the world.


As Air Force looks to 100 years and beyond, the next phase of evolution in technology is already taking place. None of this innovation would have been possible without Air Force personnel, who as air power professionals make the delivery and management of strategy, operations, tactics, and logistics possible.

Air Force personnel are already retraining and reskilling for the next generation of capability.

As Air Force continues to develop its professional mastery of airpower our strategy, development, doctrine, and training are also being adapted, refined and updated. There is no doubt that technology will continue to evolve, and the Air Force personnel of tomorrow will need to continue their training and develop different skills. In the future, the role of relationships with our allies, other Defence Groups and with industry partners, that help develop and deliver our capability will continue to grow.

While the future holds some uncertainty, some things are certain. The Royal Australian Air Force will continue its tradition of service to the highest standard and continue to embrace emerging technology; to provide efficient management of Air Force operations and business; and offer responsive military options to the Government for the defence of Australia, its interests, and its values.