Russia's behavior in Syria and beyond has U.S. officials worried the recklessness is likely to continue, Air Force officials said Wednesday. 

At a State of the Air Force briefing with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the former Soviet country has every intention of remaining provocative, especially toward U.S. pilots operating in international airspace​. 

Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters have buzzed, barrel rolled or skirted by U.S. RC-135 aircraft at least three times this year; Twice in April, Russian Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft flew extremely low and close by the destroyer Donald Cook in the international waters of the Baltic Sea. And the provocative maneuvers are not limited to U.S. aircraft or ships. 

Goldfein added it is unsurprising that Russia has become a more capable air force in the last few years, but the intercepts of U.S. pilots in international air space, even though near Russia’s borders, remain worrisome. 

"For fifty years we’ve been intercepting each other in international airspace," said Goldfein, a former F-16 pilot said​. "One might ask, ‘Why would we allow each other to close well inside of the lethal radius of a missile, with people in the back end of a large airplane, on both sides, who can’t defend themselves; why in the world would we allow ourselves to do that?’ It’s because we’ve had standard rules of behavior that we’ve adhered to over time. said Goldfein, a former F-16 pilot.​ 

Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters buzzed, barrel rolled or skirted by U.S. RC-135 spy planes at least three times in 2016. Twice in April, Russian Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft flew extremely low and close by the destroyer Donald Cook in the international waters of the Baltic Sea.//MOVED THIS UP

"I am very concerned about recent Russian behavior on a couple of occasions where they’re not showing themselves as the professional air force I’ve seen over the years," he said.

While Goldfein said he hasn’t spoken to his Russian military counterpart, "my message is, I’ve seen the Russian air force in action and it’s a professional force, and they’re far better than that."

 

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.