9 AF (AFCENT) Commander flies with 77 EFS, expresses concern over airspace incursions

  • Published
  • By Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) Public Affairs
  • Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central)

Deterring aggression and increasing regional stability and security is one of the missions of the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Prince Sultan Air Base in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The squadron’s F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots regularly patrol the skies in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, and on April 4th, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central) Commander, joined them for a combat sortie.

“It is critical to me as the AFCENT commander to have the greatest possible awareness of the challenges our warfighters face in the air,” said Grynkewich. “There’s no better way for me to gain that awareness than to fly sorties alongside them.”

Grynkewich maintains flight currency in the F-16 but, as a former operational test pilot, has flown a range of aircraft models throughout his career, to include bombers, helicopters and cargo aircraft. During the mission, the 77th EFS pilots and the general flew over airspace in Syria, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and the Coalition service members deployed in the region who work with Syrian Democratic Forces to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

While Grynkewich has experienced a wide range of challenges in the air throughout his career, recent Russian overflights of the OIR area of operations are of particular concern.

Coalition and partner forces on the ground have been attacked by militia groups, most recently on April 10. In addition, armed Russian fighter aircraft flew over their positions 26 times from March 1st to April 19th These flights are not in line with 2019 protocols established between the Coalition and Russia to avoid miscalculations and potentially dangerous encounters in airspace over Syria, according to Grynkewich.

“Over the course of my career I have not seen this kind of disregard for agreed upon protocols and deconfliction rules,” he said, which includes a 34-mile deconfliction zone around a coalition base near At Tanf and a hotline to discuss and prevent potential issues.

“It’s concerning because it increases the risk of miscalculation, and given incidents like the MQ-9 intercept and subsequent downing over the Black Sea, it’s not the kind of behavior I’d expect out of a professional Air Force,” said Grynkewich, who is responsible for air operations in Central and Southwest Asia and the five air expeditionary wings conducting those operations.

Since March 1st, Russian aircraft have violated the deconfliction protocols 63 times, including the one of the most recent violations on April 15th over Al Tanf Garrison Airspace. Nonetheless, Grynkewich is confident AFCENT aircrew remain prepared to respond in the event of an unprofessional encounter.

“We’ve seen Russian aircraft come within 500 feet of our aircraft,” said Grynkewich. “As a professional air force, we will do everything in our power to ensure we maintain safety of flight and engage according to our special instructions. However, if any entity threatens the safety and security of coalition forces in the sky or on the ground, we will take swift action to address the threat.”