WASHINGTON — Chinese and Russian warplanes have been increasingly aggressive intercepting U.S. military aircraft and patrolling near America’s West Coast, prompting the Air Force’s top combat officer to label their provocations one of his top worries.
Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, who leadsAir Combat Command, said in an interview with USA TODAY that meeting the challenge from the Russian and Chinese to flights in international airspace is essential but dangerous.
“Our concern is a resurgent Russia and a very, very aggressive China,” Carlisle said.
Both countries are intent on expanding their spheres of influence — Russia in eastern Europe and the Pacific with China focusing much of its effort over the disputed South China Sea.
“Their intent is to get us not to be there,” Carlisle said. “So that the influence in those international spaces is controlled only by them. My belief is that we cannot allow that to happen. We have to continue to operate legally in international airspace and international waterways. We have to continue to call them out when they are being aggressive and unsafe.”
The stakes are high. Aggressive intercepts of U.S. patrol planes run the risk of mid-air collisions that would escalate tensions among nuclear powers.
“Any accident that occurs while the U.S. military is playing cat and mouse with Russian or Chinese forces could escalate into a real fight,” said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and military analyst at the Lexington Institute. “If it does, American victory is not assured, because U.S. forces are operating thousands of miles from home and the other side is near its main bases. Small confrontations can turn into big wars, and Russian military doctrine embraces the use of nuclear weapons to win local conflicts."
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