The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. The RAF has taken a significant role in British military history, playing a large part in the Second World War and in more recent conflicts.
As of mid 2011, the RAF operates around 998 aircraft, as such it is the largest Air Force in Europe and the second largest in NATO , after the United States and it is also among the most technologically sophisticated air forces in the world. The RAF has a total manpower strength of 42,200 regular personnel and 1,500 Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel. In addition the RAF can call-upon 33,400 fully trained Royal Air Force Reserves. The majority of the RAF's aircraft and personnel are based in the UK with many others serving on operations (principally Afghanistan and the Middle East) or at long-established overseas bases (Ascension Island, Canada, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Germany).
The RAF's mission is to support the objectives of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), which are to "provide the capabilities needed: to ensure the security and defence of the United Kingdom and overseas territories, including against terrorism; to support the Government’s foreign policy objectives particularly in promoting international peace and security."
The RAF's own mission statement reads as thus:|}
The above statement goes hand in hand with the RAF's definition of air power, the concept that guides the RAF strategy. Air Power is defined as: "The ability to project military force in air or space by or from a platform or missile operating above the surface of the earth. Air platforms are defined as any aircraft, helicopter or unmanned air vehicle."
Although the RAF is the principal British air power arm, the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and the British Army's Army Air Corps also deliver air power which is integrated into the maritime, littoral and land environments.