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Military Aviation: Weapons
Aircraft were used in combat starting in World War I. At the outset of World War II, the German Blitzkrieg and Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made clear the critical role aircraft and their weaponry can play. Since then aircraft weapons systems have become essential for achieving air superiority, containing potential threats, and supporting ground-based operations.
Aircraft Weapons Systems
Aircraft weapons systems can be broadly divided into guns, missiles, and bombs. Starting in World War I, aircraft were equipped with machine guns, used mostly for dogfighting and strafing ground targets. During World War II, fighters were equipped with more powerful guns in larger numbers, used in strafing attacks against enemy armor, transportation, and positions. Fighters also took on an escort role, protecting bombers against enemy fighters as they carried out strategic bombing against Germany and Japan.
Bombs, including torpedoes, came into widespread and effective use during World War II. The U.S. Navy developed and deployed torpedo bombers such as the TBF Avenger against Japanese surface vessels and submarines. The Army Air Corps (later the Army Air Force) equipped many of its fighters, including the P-51 Mustang, with bomb-carrying capability. Larger aircraft known as bombers, such as the B-25 Mitchell and B-29, took on the role of deploying heavier munitions, ultimately including the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the war.
The first air-to-air missiles were developed in the late 1940s. Fighters were originally equipped with air-to-air missiles for interception and interdiction, but by the Vietnam War, were using them in aerial combat. The primary mission of fighters was often to support ground operations or escort bombers, which required defense against enemy fighters.
Air-to-ground missiles appeared during World War II for use against anti-aircraft artillery and armor. In the modern era, precision air-to-ground missiles are used to destroy enemy vehicles, armor, and even small structures such as radar installations.
Modern fighters including the F/A-18 Super Hornet are capable of carrying a wide variety of munitions, from air-to-air missiles to air-to-ground munitions, as well as lighter weight bombs (photo, above). Modern bombers such as the B-2 Bomber and B-51 carry heavier bombs, as well as cruise missiles. UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper have been equipped with both air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground missiles.
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Recommended Books about Aircraft Weapons Systems