ORLANDO, Florida – After years of focusing on the threat of violent extremism in the Middle East, the Air Force must now turn its attention to the rest of the world, Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said Thursday.
For years, Goldfein said during his speech at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium, roughly 80 percent of the Air Force's time and energy was focused on the Middle East, which didn't leave much left over for considering the rest of the world and "near-peer" adversaries that have comparable militaries to the United States.
But in 2014, Russia's invasion of Crimea and China's building and militarization of islands in the South China Sea signaled a shift in geopolitical realities that the Air Force is going to have to adjust to, he said.
"Doggone it, our enemies and our adversaries are not paying attention to our combatant commanders' maps," Goldfein said sarcastically.
What's more, the Air Force must relearn how to deter and counter adversaries that are capable of operating in multiple areas across the world, Goldfein said. For example, Russia isn't just a threat for United States European Command to tackle, he said. It will take multiple combatant commands operating trans-regionally, from America to Africa to the Pacific to Transportation and Strategic commands, to counter Russia.
"Are we thinking about this as checkers, or chess?" Goldfein asked.
A "checkers" approach to dealing with, for example, a Russian force challenging American or allied forces from the east would be to respond from the west, Goldfein said. But global superpowers don't think or operate so linearly, he said.
Instead, Goldfein said the military must act like "global chess masters," and counter to a threat from the east by responding from the north, south, east and west simultaneously.
"We produce so many dilemmas and so much capability at a speed that the adversary can never match, that equates to deterrence in the 21st Century," Goldfein said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.