The Russian air force has come much closer to being on par with the U.S. Air Force in recent years, said Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
"The advantage that we had from the air, I can honestly say, is shrinking, not only with respect to the aircraft that they're producing, but the more alarming thing is their ability to create anti-access area denied areas is a challenge that we're all going to face up to and that we're all going to have to train to," Gorenc said Monday.
After the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, the Russians invested heavily in modernizing its air force, Gorenc said at the Air Force Association's 2015 national convention.
"Apparently, they didn't like what they saw from the air, and what we saw is a very large modernization effort and a capacity effort that is manifesting itself at this point," he said.
For years, defense officials have been anticipating that China will develop anti-access/aerial denial capabilities — a layered defense of enemy fighters and surface-to-air missiles that would be difficult for the U.S. Air Force to penetrate.
"What I'm telling you is: This is not just a Pacific problem; it is as significant in Europe as it is anywhere else on the planet," Gorenc said.
He said Russia has made progress in developing such defenses in Kaliningrad and the Crimea region of Ukraine, which Russia annexed in 2014.
"There's clearly a whole set of modern, long-range, surface-to-air missile systems that are clearly being layered in a way that makes access into that area more difficult," he said. "We're going to have to develop TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures] and continue to develop requirements that will allow us to address that modern, long-range SAM array."
Gorenc said he is also concerned by how much better the quality and quantity of Russian equipment has become and how far the Russians have come using remotely piloted aircraft.
"I think there's just been an in-general elevation in the capabilities of the Russian air force, particularly with respect to where they stood against U.S. and NATO capabilities," he said.