Military aviation came into its own during the Second World War. The increased performance, range, and payload of contemporary aircraft meant that air power could move beyond the novelty applications of World War I, becoming a central striking force for all the combatant nations.

Over the course of the war, several distinct roles emerged for the application of air power.

Strategic bombing of civilian targets from the air was first proposed by the Italian theorist General Giulio Douhet. In his book The Command of the Air (1921), Douhet argued future military leaders could avoid falling into bloody World War I–style trench stalemates by using aviation to strike past the enemy's forces directly at their vulnerable civilian populations. Douhet believed such strikes would cause these populations to force their governments to surrender.

Douhet's ideas were paralleled by other military theorists who emerged from World War I, including Sir Hugh Trenchard in Britain. In the interwar period, Britain and the United States became the most enthusiastic supporters of the strategic bombing theory, with each nation building specialized heavy bombers specifically for this task.

Shōwa strategic bombing was independently conducted during the Second Sino-Japanese war and World War II by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service.

Bombing efforts mostly targeted large Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Wuhan and Chonging. The bombing of Nanjing and Canton, which began on 22 and 23 September 1937, called forth widespread protests culminating in a resolution by the Far Eastern Advisory Committee of the League of Nations.

There were also air raids on Philippines and northern Australia (Bombing of Darwin, 19 February 1942). The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service used tactical bombing against enemy airfields and military positions, as at Pearl Harbor. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service also attacked enemy ships and military installations.

In the early days of World War II, the Luftwaffe launched devastating air attacks against the besieged cities of Warsaw and Rotterdam. In the case of Warsaw, the bombings had little effect, but in the case of Rotterdam, the psychological effect of the bombings did have the intended effect—a relatively rapid ending of Dutch resistance (Buckley 129).

During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe, frustrated in its attempts to gain air superiority in preparation for the planned invasion, turned to bombing of London and other large English cities. However, the Luftwaffe found these raids did not have the effect predicted by prewar airpower theorists.

The British, started in kind - using a strategic bombing campaign in 1940 that was to last for the rest of the war. Early British bombers were all twin-engined designs and were lacking in defensive armament. Therefore, RAF Bomber Command quickly turned to a policy of night bombing, for which the crews were untrained; their inaccuracy meant they were forced to adopt area bombing and were unable to hit specific targets such as factories or power plants until later in the war when pathfinder tactics, radio location plus ground mapping radar (OBOE and H2S) and very low-level bombing such as that used by the Dambusters in Operation Chastise were developed.

Although the rapid industrialization the Soviet Union experienced in the 1930s had the potential to enable the Voyenno-vozdushnyye sily (VVS) to be effective against the Luftwaffe, Stalin's purges left the organization intellectually and morally weakened. However, when Germany invaded in June 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), the massive size of the VVS, in both planes and people, allowed it to absorb "horrendous" casualties and still maintain capability.

Despite the near collapse of both the Red Army and Red Air Force in 1941, they survived, as German forces outran their supply lines and the Americans and British provided Lend Lease assistance.

Fundamental flaws in the Luftwaffe were exposed during Germany's war with the Soviet Union. Although strategic bombing requires that the enemy's industrial war capacity be neutralized, some Soviet war factories were moved as much as 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east—far out of reach of the Luftwaffe's bombers. Because the Luftwaffe's resources were needed for more critical duty in supporting the German army, the Luftwaffe became overstretched, and even victorious battles damaged the overall capability of Germany's air force due to attrition.

By 1943, the Soviets had fully rebounded from the defeats of 1941, and they were able to produce considerably more airplanes than their German rivals; for example, at Kursk, the VVS had twice the number of airplanes that the Luftwaffe had. The VVS's fighter-capability rested on the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-5, and its primary bombers were the Ilyushin 2 Shturmovik. and Petlyakov Pe-2 Utilizing overwhelming numerical superiority, Soviet forces were able to drive the Germans out of Soviet territory and take the war to Germany.

When the U.S. Eighth Air Force arrived in England in 1942, the Americans were convinced they could carry out successful daylight raids. The Eighth was equipped with B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators, both high-altitude four-engined designs. The new bombers also featured the strongest defensive armament yet seen - up to 13 .50 caliber machine guns, depending on the version, most of them in power-operated turrets. Flying in daylight in large, close formations, U.S. doctrine held tactical formations of heavy bombers would be sufficient to gain air superiority in the absence of escort fighters. The intended raids would hit hard on chokepoints in the German war economy such as oil refineries or ball bearing factories.

The U.S.A.A.F. was compelled to change its doctrine since bombers alone, no matter how heavily armed, could not achieve air superiority against single-engined fighters. Loss rates rose from five to twenty percent in a series of missions between August 17 and October 14, 1943, when raids against Regensburg and Schweinfurt, penetrating beyond the range of fighter cover, resulted in the loss of 60 bombers on one mission.

Only the infantry suffered more enlisted casualties than the USAAF: almost 68,000 enlisted men died. Overall, the Allies lost 160,000 airmen and 33,700 planes during the air war over Europe.

During the Battle of Britain, many of the best Luftwaffe pilots had been forced to bail out over British soil, where they were captured. As the quality of the Luftwaffe fighter arm decreased, the Americans introduced the long-range P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang escort fighters, carrying drop tanks. Newer, inexperienced German pilots—flying potentially superior aircraft, such as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Heinkel He 162, and the Messerschmitt Me 262—gradually became less and less effective at thinning the late-war bomber streams. Adding fighters to the daylight raids gave the bombers much-needed protection and greatly improved the impact of the strategic bombing effort.

Over time, from 1942 to 1944, the Allies' air forces became stronger and stronger while the Luftwaffe became weaker and weaker. During 1944, the Luftwaffe experienced a 78 percent reduction in its strength, and Germany's air force lost control over Germany's skies. As a result nothing in Germany could be securely protected—not stationary army units, nor moving army units, nor war factories, nor their workers, nor civilians in cities such as Hamburg and Dresden, nor the nation's capital—Berlin. Germans had to watch as their soldiers and civilians began to be slaughtered in the thousands by aerial bombardment—much as the Germans had done to Poland, Rotterdam, Britain, and the Soviet Union.

Strategic bombing by non-atomic means did not win the war for the Allies, nor did it succeed in breaking the will to resist of the German (and Japanese) people. But in the words of the German armaments minister Albert Speer, it created "a second front in the air." Speer succeeded in increasing the output of armaments right up to mid-1944 in spite of the bombing. Still, the war against the British and American bombers demanded enormous amounts of resources: antiaircraft guns, day and night fighters, radars, searchlights, manpower, ammunition, and fuel.

On the Allied side, strategic bombing diverted material resources, equipment (such as radar) aircraft, and manpower away from the Battle of the Atlantic (where even a couple of squadrons of B-24s could be priceless) and Allied armies. As a result, German army groups in Russia, Italy, and France rarely saw friendly aircraft and constantly ran short of tanks, trucks, and anti-tank weapons. The only option left was to create World War I–style slit trench defenses quite unlike the blitzkriegs of 1939–1941.

The long-range Boeing B-29 was used to bomb Japan. On 15 June 1944, 47 B-29s launched from Chengdu, China, bombed the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata Japan. This raid was the first attack on Japanese islands since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942. The entire B-29 effort was gradually shifted to the new bases in the Marianas Islands in the Central Pacific.

The first mission against Japan from bases in the Marianas was flown on 24 November 1944, with 111 B-29s sent to attack Tokyo. From that point, increasingly intense raids were launched regularly until the end of the war. Tactics evolved from high-altitude to lower altitude attacks, largely removing most defensive guns and switching to incendiary bombs. These attacks succeeded in devastating almost all large Japanese cities.

The most famous B-29 was the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb 'Little Boy' on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Bockscar, another B-29, dropped 'Fat Man' on Nagasaki three days later. Although the ethics of nuclear warfare remain controversial, these two actions, along with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on 9 August 1945, brought about the Japanese surrender, and the official end of World War II.

By contrast with the British strategists, the primary purpose of the Luftwaffe was to support the Army. This accounted for the presence of large numbers of dive bombers on strength and the scarcity of long-range heavy bombers. This 'flying artillery' greatly assisted in the successes of the German Army in the Battle of France (1940) . Hitler determined air superiority was essential for the invasion of Britain. When this was not achieved in the Battle of Britain, the invasion was canceled, making this the first major battle whose outcome was determined primarily in the air.

The war in Russia forced the Luftwaffe to devote the majority of its resources to providing tactical air support for the beleaguered German army. In that role, the Luftwaffe used the Junkers Ju 87, Henschel Hs 123 and modified fighters—Bf 109 and FW 190.

The Red Air Force was also primarily used in the tactical support role, and towards the end of the war was very effective in the support of the Red Army in its advance across Eastern Europe. An aircraft of importance to the Soviets was the Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik—appropriately called "flying artilery"; the Il-2 was able to make life very difficult for panzer crews, and the Il-2 was an important part of the Soviet victory at Kursk—one of the biggest tank battles in history.

Military transport aviation was invaluable to all sides in maintaining supply and communications of ground troops, and was used on many notable occasions such as resupply of German troops in and around Stalingrad after Operation Uranus, and employment of airborne troops. After the first trials in use of airborne troops by the Red Army displayed in the early 1930s many European nations and Japan also formed the airborne troops, and these saw extensive service on in all Theatres of the Second World War.

However their effectiveness as shock troops employed to surprise enemy static troops proved to be of limited success. Most airborne troops served as light infantry by the end of the war despite attempts at massed use in the Western Theatre by US and Britain during the Operation Market Garden.

Aircraft and the aircraft carrier first became important in naval battles in World War II. Carrier based aircraft are specialized as dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighters, evolving from biplanes such as the Swordfish and fighters such as the F4F Wildcat which were based on biplanes to the F4U Corsair which outperformed many land based types, and the TBF Avenger which had an enclosed gun turret.

Surface based aircraft such as the PBY Catalina help find submarines and surface fleets. The aircraft carrier replaces the battleship as the most powerful naval offensive weapons system as battles between fleets are fought entirely out of gun range by aircraft. The Yamato, the most powerful battleship ever built is first turned back by light escort carrier aircraft, and later sunk lacking its own air cover.

In the Doolittle Raid, the US launches normally land-based B-25 Mitchell bombers from carriers in a raid against Tokyo and other Japanese mainland targets. Small escort carriers and light carriers are built in large numbers to escort slow cargo convoys or supplement fast carriers. Aircraft for observation or light raids are also carried by battleships and cruisers, while blimps are used to search for attack submarines.

Military aviation in the post-war years was dominated by the needs of the Cold War. The post-war years saw the almost total conversion of combat aircraft to jet power, which resulted in enormous increases in speeds and altitudes of aircraft. Until the advent of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile major powers relied on high-altitude bombers to deliver their newly developed nuclear deterrent; each country strove to develop the technology of bombers and the high-altitude fighters that could intercept them. The concept of air superiority began to play a heavy role in aircraft designs for both the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Americans developed and made extensive use of the high-altitude observation aircraft for intelligence-gathering. The U-2, and later the SR-71 Blackbird were developed in great secrecy. The U-2 at its time was supposed to be invulnerable to defensive measures, due to its extreme altitude. It therefore came as a great shock when the Soviets downed one piloted by Gary Powers with a surface-to-air missile.

Air combat was also transformed through increased use of air-to-air guided missiles with increased sophistication in guidance and increased range. In the 70s and 80s it became clear that speed and altitude was not enough to protect a bomber against air defences. The emphasis shifted therefore to maneuverable attack aircraft that could fly 'under the radar', at altitudes of a few hundred feet.

The Korean War was best remembered for jet combat, but was one of the last major wars where propeller-powered fighters such as the P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair and aircraft carrier-based Hawker Sea Fury and Supermarine Seafire were used.:174Turbojet fighter aircraft such as F-80s, F-84 Thunderjets and F9F Panthers came to dominate the skies, overwhelming North Korea’s propeller-driven Yakovlev Yak-9s and Lavochkin La-9s.:182

From 1950, North Koreans flew the Soviet-made MiG-15 jet fighters which introduced the near-sonic speeds of swept wings to air combat. Though an open secret during the war, the most formidable pilots today now admit that they were experienced Soviet Air Force pilots, a casus belli:182 deliberately overlooked by the UN allied forces who suspected the use of Russians but were reluctant to engage in open war with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.

At first, UN jet fighters, which also included Royal Australian Air Force Gloster Meteors, had some success, but straight winged jets were soon outclassed in daylight by the superior speed of the MiGs. At night, however, radar-equipped Marine Corps F3D Skynight night fighters claimed five MiG kills with no losses of their own, and no B-29s under their escort were lost to enemy fighters.

In December 1950, the U.S. Air Force rushed in their own swept-wing fighter, the F-86 Sabre.:183 The MiG could fly higher, 50,000 vs. 42,000 feet (12,800 m), offering a distinct advantage at the start of combat. In level flight, their maximum speeds were comparable — about 660 mph (1,060 km/h). The MiG could climb better, while the Sabre could turn and dive better with an all-flying tailplane. For weapons, the MiG carried two 23 mm and one 37 mm cannon, compared to the Sabre’s six .50 (12.7 mm) caliber machine guns. The American .50 caliber machine guns, while not packing the same punch, carried many more rounds and were aimed with a more accurate radar-ranging gunsight. The U.S. pilots also had the advantage of G-suits, which were used for the first time in this war.

Even after the Air Force introduced the advanced F-86, its pilots often struggled against the jets piloted by Soviet pilots, dubbed "honchos". The UN gradually gained air superiority over most of Korea that lasted until the end of the war — a decisive factor in helping the UN first advance into the north, and then resist the Chinese invasion of South Korea.:182-184

After the war, the USAF claimed 792 MiG-15s and 108 additional aircraft shot down by Sabres for the loss of 78 Sabres, a ratio in excess of 10:1, though some other studies show a gap of close to 2:1 against the best Russian pilots. Some post-war research has been able to confirm only 379 victories, although the USAF continues to maintain its official credits and the debate is possibly irreconcilable.

The Soviets claimed about 1,100 air-to-air victories and 335 combat MiG losses at that time. China's official losses were 231 planes shot down in air-to-air combat (mostly MiG-15) and 168 other losses. The number of losses of the North Korean Air Force was not revealed. It is estimated that it lost about 200 aircraft in the first stage of the war, and another 70 aircraft after Chinese intervention.

Soviet claims of 650 victories over the Sabres, and China's claims of another 211 F-86s, are considered to be exaggerated by the USAF. According to a recent U.S. publication, the number of F-86s ever present in the Korean peninsula during the war totaled only 674[citation needed] and the total F-86 losses from all causes were about 230.

The Korean war was the first time the helicopter was used extensively in a conflict. While helicopters such as the YR-4 were used in World War II, their use was rare, and Jeeps like the Willys MB were the main method of removing an injured soldier. In the Korean war helicopters like the H-19 partially took over in the non combat Medevac area.

The wars saw the Indian Air Force and the Pakistani Air Force being involved in full scale combat for the first time since independence. Though the two forces had previously faced off in the First Kashmir War during the late 1940s, it was limited in scale compared to the '65 and 71' conflict.

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, both air forces engaged each other for the first time in a full blown combat. Both countries hold highly contradictory claims on combat losses during the war and hardly any neutral sources have thoroughly verified the claims of both countries' claim. PAF claimed it had shot down 104 IAF planes losing only 19 in the process. India meanwhile claimed that 35 IAF planes were lost while shooting down 73 PAF aircraft. By the end of the war, neither the numerically larger IAF, nor the PAF which possessed a qualitative advantage, achieved air superiority.

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Indian Air force had both the qualitative as well as numerical edge over PAF after the induction of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 in large numbers. The war began with Operation Chengiz Khan, Pakistan's December 3, 1971 pre-emptive strike on 11 Indian airbases. After the initial preemptive strike, PAF adopted a defensive stance in response to the Indian retaliation. As the war progressed, the Indian Air Force continued to battle the PAF over conflict zones, but the number of sorties flown by the PAF gradually decreased day-by-day. The Indian Air Force flew 4,000 sorties while its counterpart, the PAF offered little in retaliation, partly because of the paucity of non-Bengali technical personnel. This lack of retaliation has also been attributed to the deliberate decision of the PAF High Command to cut its losses as it had already incurred huge losses in the conflict. The PAF also did not intervene during the Indian Navy's two raids on Pakistani naval port city of Karachi codenamed Operation Trident and Operation Python. PAF also was not able to support its troops during Battle of Longewala. In the east, the small air contingent of Pakistan Air Force No. 14 Sqn was destroyed, putting the Dhaka airfield out of commission and resulting in Indian air superiority in the east. Lasting just 13 days it is considered one of the shortest wars in history.

The South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) was originally equipped with helicopters such as the CH-21 and propeller powered aircraft such as the T-28 Trojan when jet aircraft were disallowed by treaty. As US involvement increased, most airpower was directly flown by US forces.

Large scale use of helicopters by the US Army in Vietnam led to a new class of airmobile troops, and the introduction of "Air Cavalry" in the U.S, culminating in extensive use of the UH-1 Huey helicopter which would become a symbol of that war, while the CH-54 Tarhe "Skycrane" and CH-47 Chinook lifted heavier loads such as vehicles or artillery. Troops were able to land unexpectedly, strike, and leave again, and evacuate wounded. The specialized AH-1 Cobra was developed from the Huey for escort and ground support duties, The later Soviet campaign in Afghanistan would also see widespread use of helicopters as part of the Air Assault brigades and regiments.

US forces provided close support of ground force over South Vietnam, and strategic bombing of targets over North Vietnam. Many types flying close support or COIN (Counter Insurgency Warfare) missions were propeller powered types such as the O-1 and OV-10 Bronco FAC spotters, A-1 Skyraider, B-26 Invader, and AC-47 "Spooky" gunship. C-123 Provider and C-130 Hercules transports flew supplies into battlefields such as Khe Sanh.

"Fast movers" included the supersonic F-100 Super Sabre, while the giant B-52 Stratofortress would be modified to unload a massive high explosive payload on enemy troop concentrations. The AC-130 would become the ultimate gunship, while the AX specification to replace the Skyraider would evolve into the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

The USAF F-105 Thunderchiefs flew the bulk of strike missions against North Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder, while carrier-based A-4 Skyhawks were flown by the Navy. That first campaign was marred by carefully measured regulations that prohibited attacks against SAM missile sites and fighter bases, and frequent bombing halts, and produced little in political results. Rolling Thunder saw the first combat use of electronic computers aboard PIRAZ ships to display comprehensive real-time aircraft position information for force commanders.

Lessons learned were applied to the later Operation Linebacker which employed Phantoms, B-52s, swing-wing F-111s, A-7 Corsairs and all-weather A-6 Intruders was more successful in bringing North Vietnam to the negotiating table after a massive ground invasion. North Vietnam effectively combined Soviet and Chinese anti-aircraft artillery, SA-2 guided missiles, and MiG fighters to create the most heavily defended airspace up to that time.

US air strikes would combine the use of airbone radar platforms such as the EC-121 Warning Star, KC-135 Stratotankers for air refueling, radar jamming aircraft and specialized "Wild Weasel" units to attack SAM missile sites. Jolly Green Giant helicopter crews escorted by A-1 "Sandy"s would retrieve downed pilots over hostile territory.With the use of "smart" guided bombs late in the war, this would set the model for future US air operations.

Experts were surprised when advanced F-105s were shot down in its first encounter against the elderly but nimble MiG-17. Dogfights were thought to be obsolete in the age of missiles, but pilots now needed maneuverability. The F-4 Phantom was quickly tasked with protecting against MiGs, but sorely lacked a built-in gun when missiles were often unreliable. Air combat training schools such as TOPGUN would improve kill ratios, but combat experience started programs that would produce agile air superiority fighters with guns such as the F-15 Eagle by the 1970s.

South Vietnam fell without US air support when faced with a massive assault in 1975. The VNAF South Vietnamese Air Force was never supplied with powerful fighters and bombers such as the Phantom and B-52 which could strike at North Vietnam.

In the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israeli Air Force launched pre-emptive strikes which destroyed opposing Arab air forces on the ground. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 saw the Arab deployment of mobile SA-6 missiles which proved effective against low-flying Israeli aircraft until they were neutralized by ground forces.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 forced Western air forces to undergo a shift from the massive numbers felt to be necessary during the Cold War to smaller numbers of multi-role aircraft. The closure of several military bases overseas and the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure program have served to highlight the effectiveness of aircraft carriers in the absence of dedicated military or air forces bases, as the Falklands war and U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf have highlighted.

The advent of precision-guided munitions have allowed for strikes at arbitrary surface targets once proper reconnaissance is performed (network-centric warfare). In some cases such as the NATO Operation Allied Force effort against Serbian operations in Kosovo, air power was the deciding factor with ground forces mostly securing the area afterwards[citation needed]. However in most cases the standard military doctrine still applies: wars against third-world regional entities still cannot be won through air power alone.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has noted that sales of combat aircraft can have a destabilizing effect because of their ability to quickly strike neighboring countries, such as during Operation Orchard in 2007.

The role of air power in modern warfare was dramatically demonstrated during the Gulf War in 1991. Behind-the-lines air attacks were made on Iraqi command and control centers, communications facilities, supply depots, and reinforcement forces. Air superiority over Iraq was gained before major ground combat began.

The initial strikes were composed of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from battleships situated in the Persian Gulf, F-117A Nighthawk stealth bombers with an armament of laser-guided smart bombs, and F-4G Wild Weasel aircraft armed with HARM anti-radar missiles. These first attacks allowed F-14, F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 fighter bombers to gain air superiority over the country and then continue to drop TV and laser-guided bombs.

Armed with a gatling gun and heat-seeking or optically guided Maverick missiles, A-10 Thunderbolts bombed and destroyed Iraqi armored forces, supporting the advance of US ground troops. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, fired laser guided Hellfire missiles and TOW missiles which were guided to tanks by ground observers or scout helicopters. The allied air fleet also made use of the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and a fleet of B-52 bombers.

The aerial strike force was made up of over 2,250 combat aircraft, which included 1,800 US aircraft, which fought against an Iraqi force of about 500 Soviet-built MiG-29 and French-made Mirage F-1 fighters. More than 88,000 combat missions had been flown by allied forces with over 88,000 tons of bombs dropped by the end of the fifth week.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by US and British forces putatively to defeat the regime of Saddam Hussein, aerial warfare continued to be decisive. The US-British alliance began its air campaign on March 19 with limited nighttime bombing on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Several days later, intensive bombardment began. About 14,000 sorties were flown, and at a cost of $1 million dollars each, 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at numerous targets in Iraq from March 19 until mid-April 2003. By this time Iraqi resistance had largely ended.

Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons were unable to open fire on high-altitude US bombers such as the B-52 or stealth aircraft such as the B-2 bomber and the F-117A. US and British aircraft used radar-detecting devices and aerial reconnaissance to locate Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons. Bunker buster bombs, designed to penetrate and destroy underground bunkers, were dropped on Iraqi command and control centers. Iraqi ground forces could not seriously challenge the American ground forces because of their air supremacy. By mid-April 2003, US-British forces controlled all of Iraq's major cities and oil fields.

In the beginning of the 2006 Lebanon War Israel utilized an intensive aerial campaign aimed to eliminate Hezbollah and destroy its military, as stated by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. It also aimed to return kidnapped Israeli soldiers. The campaign started by destroying Lebanese infrastructure and Hezbollah targets. This continued during the 33 days of the war.

Taking into consideration the results of the 1991 and 2003 wars on Iraq and the 1999 war on the former Yugoslavia, the Israeli air force was unable to accomplish its objectives as completely. This partly results from the military doctrine that Hezbollah used in the war which proved effective. There have also been reports during the conflict that a Hezbollah-operated flying drone penetrated Israeli airspace, and returned to Lebanese territory.

The Indian Air Force was established in British India as an auxiliary air force of the Royal Air Force with the enactment of the Indian Air Force Act 1932 on 8 October that year and adopted the Royal Air Force uniforms , badges, brevets and insignia. On 1 April 1933, the IAF commissioned its first squadron, No.1 Squadron, with four Westland Wapiti biplanes and five Indian pilots. The Indian pilots were led by Flight Lieutenant (later Air Vice Marshal) Cecil Bouchier. Until 1938, No. 1 Squadron remained the only squadron of the IAF, though two more flights were added.

During World War II, the red blob was removed from the IAF roundel to eliminate confusion with the Japanese Red Sun Emblem. The Air Force grew to seven squadrons in 1943 and to nine squadrons in 1945. The IAF helped in blocking the advance of the Japanese army in Burma, where its first air strike was on the Japanese military base in Arakan. It also carried out strike missions against the Japanese airbases at Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. In recognition of the crucial role played by the IAF, King George VI conferred it the prefix "Royal" in 1945. During the war, many youth joined the Indian National Army. Forty five of them (known as the Tokyo Boys) were sent to train as fighter pilots at the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force Academy in 1944 by Subhas Chandra Bose. After the war, they were interned by the Allies and were court-martialled. After Indian independence, some of them rejoined the IAF for service.

A few other spans of conflicts opened up the use of aerial warfare in recent times. In 1999, India and Pakistan were involved in a brief conflict over Kashmir. The Indian Air Force used Mirage 2000 fighter jet effectively to carry out ground assault sorties against Pakistani positions. The air operations were notable given the high altitude terrain of Kashmir. When British India was granted its independence in 1947, it was partitioned into the new states of the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. The armed forces were similarly divided. India's air force retained the name of the Royal Indian Air Force, but three of the ten operational squadrons and facilities, located within the new borders of Pakistan, were transferred to the Royal Pakistan Air Force. The RIAF Roundel was changed to an interim 'Chakra' roundel derived from the Ashoka Chakra.

When India became a republic in 1950, the prefix 'Royal' was dropped from the Indian Air Force. At the same time, the current IAF roundel was adapted.

Around the same time, conflict broke out between them over the control of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. With Pakistani forces moving into the state, its Maharaja decided to accede to India in order to receive military help. The day after instrument of accession was signed, the RIAF was called upon to transport troops into the war-zone. This led to the eruption of full scale war between India and Pakistan, though there was no formal declaration of war. During the war, the RIAF did not engage the Pakistan Air Force in air-to-air combat; however, it did provide effective transport and close air support to the Indian troops. In 1962, border disagreements between China and India escalated to a war when China mobilised its troops across the Indian border. During the Sino-Indian War, India's military planners failed to deploy and effectively use the IAF against the invading Chinese forces. This resulted in India losing a significant amount of territory to the Chinese; especially in Jammu and Kashmir. By late 1971, the intensification of the independence movement in erstwhile East Pakistan lead to the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan . On 22 November 1971, 10 days before the start of a full-scale war, four PAF F-86 Sabre jets attacked Indian and Mukti Bahini positions at Garibpur, near the international border. Three of the four PAF Sabres were shot down by the IAF's Folland Gnats. On 3 December, India formally declared war against Pakistan following massive preemptive strikes by the PAF against Indian Air Force installations in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur. However, the IAF did not suffer significantly because the leadership had anticipated such a move and precautions were taken. The Indian Air Force was quick to respond to Pakistani air strikes, following which the PAF carried out mostly defensive sorties.

Within the first two weeks, the IAF had carried out almost 2,000 sorties over East Pakistan and also provided close air support to the advancing Indian Army. IAF also assisted the Indian Navy in its operations against the Pakistani Navy and Maritime Security Agency in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. On the western front, the IAF destroyed more than 29 Pakistani tanks, 40 APCs and a railway train during the Battle of Longewala. The IAF undertook strategic bombing of West Pakistan by carrying out raids on oil installations in Karachi, the Mangla Dam and a gas plant in Sindh. Similar strategy was also deployed in East Pakistan and as the IAF achieved complete air superiority on the eastern front, the ordnance factories, runways, and other vital areas of East Pakistan were severely damaged. By the time Pakistani forces surrendered, the IAF claimed that 94 PAF aircraft, including 54 F-86 Sabres had been shot down. The IAF had flown over 6,000 sorties on both East and West fronts; including sorties by transport aircraft and helicopters. Towards the end of the war, IAF's transport planes dropped leaflets over Dhaka urging the Pakistani forces to surrender, demoralising Pakistani troops in East Pakistan.

Three years after the Sino-Indian conflict, in 1965, India went to war with Pakistan again over Kashmir in what came to be known as the Second Kashmir War. Learning from the experiences of the Sino-Indian war, India used its air force extensively during the war. This was the first time the IAF actively engaged an enemy air force. However, instead of providing close air support to the Indian Army, the IAF carried out independent raids against PAF bases. These bases were situated deep inside Pakistani territory, making IAF fighters vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. During the course of the conflict, the PAF enjoyed qualitative superiority over the IAF as most of the jets in IAF's fleet were of post World War II vintage. Despite this, the IAF was able to prevent the PAF from gaining air superiority over conflict zones. By the time the conflict had ended, Pakistan claimed to have shot down 113 IAF aircraft while the Indians claimed 73 PAF aircraft were downed. More than 60% of IAF's air combat losses took place during the battles over Kalaikunda and Pathankot; where most of the aircraft were destroyed while parked on the ground.

On 11 May 1999, the Indian Air Force was called in to provide close air support to the Indian Army at the height of the ongoing Kargil conflict with the use of helicopters. The IAF strike was code named Operation Safed Sagar. The first strikes were launched on the 26 May, when the Indian Air Force struck infiltrator positions with fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships.. The initial strikes saw MiG-27s carrying out offensive sorties, with MiG-21s and later MiG-29s providing fighter cover. The IAF also deployed its radars and the MiG-29 fighters in vast numbers to keep check on Pakistani military movements across the border.Srinagar Airport was at this time closed to civilian air-traffic and dedicated to the Indian Air Force.

On 27 May, the first fatalities were suffered when a MiG-21 and a MiG-27 jets were lost over Batalik Sector to enemy action and mechanical failure, respectively. The following day, a Mi-17 was lost- with the loss of all four of the crew- when it was hit by three stingers while on an offensive sortie.. These losses forced the Indian Air Force to reassess its strategy. The helicopters were immediately withdrawn from offensive roles as a measure against the man-portable missiles in possession of the infiltrators. On 30 May, the Indian Air Force called into operation the Mirage 2000 which was deemed the best aircraft capable of optimum performance under the conditions of high-altitude seen in the zone of conflict. Mirage 2000s not only had better defence equipment compared to the MiGs, but also gave IAF the ability to carry out aerial raids at night. The MiG-29s were used extensively to provide fighter escort to the Mirage 2000. The Mirages successfully targeted enemy camps and logistic bases in Kargil and within days, their supply lines were severely disrupted. Mirage 2000s were used for strikes on Muntho Dhalo and the heavily defended Tiger Hill and paved the way for their early recapture. At the height of the conflict, the IAF was conducting over forty sorties daily over the Kargil region. By 26 July, the Indian forces had successfully liberated Kargil from Pakistani forces.