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The new Air Force chief is sick and tired of Russia's aerial antics

All is not "pretty darn good" to Air Force Gen. David Goldfein.


The new Air Force Chief of Staff is a month into his command and is already known for "straight talk" to his airmen and the reporters who cover him.

This time, the decorated combat pilot had some strong words for Russia's air force after several instances of dangerous fly-bys and aerial close encounters.

"I will tell you I am concerned, very concerned about recent Russian behavior in a couple of occasions," he told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing on Aug. 10. "Low passes over our ships, aggressive acts over our aircraft. You know, my message to my counterpart is I've seen the Russian Air Force in action, it's a professional force, and they're far better than that."

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft making a very low altitude pass by USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) in the Baltic Sea, 12 April 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer (U.S. Navy photo)

General Goldfein is an experienced pilot who flew combat sorties during Desert Storm, in the Balkans, and over Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 1999, he was shot down in an F-16C Fighting Falcon on a strike against Serbian forces near Belgrade, where he evaded capture until he was rescued by an HH-60G Pave Hawk aircrew.

During the Aug. 10 presser, a reporter asked Goldfein if he was surprised at the Russian air force's performance during its yearlong deployment to Syria.

"For 50 years, we've been intercepting each other in international airspace. ... Why in the world would we allow ourselves to do that?" Gen. Goldfein wondered. "It's because we've had standard rules of behavior that we've adhered to over time, and so it's not surprising at all that Russia has a capable air force."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein with Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, answers a question during the "State of the Air Force" press conference, in the Pentagon, Aug. 10, 2016. Goldfein stated, "Airpower has become the oxygen the joint force breathes. Have it and you don't even think about it. Don't have it . . . and it is all you think about." (U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash)

That's when he winged over into his rhetorical bombing run on Russia's recent fly-bys, calling into question the service's professionalism and urging them to back off.

This was the first press conference Goldfein's held as the 21st Air Force Chief of Staff. The former F-117 Nighthawk pilot also discussed his plans for meeting the challenges to American air supremacy.

With a nearly 700 fighter pilot shortage and money woes that leave some squadrons without the funds to train, Goldfein says he's trying to plug the gaps and bolster the force.

"Air superiority is not an American birthright. It's actually something you have to fight for and maintain," Goldfein said. "It is a crisis. ... I do believe that quality of service will be equally important to everything we can do in quality of life."