USAFE officials forge relations with Russian air force

Col. Darryl Roberson, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, pins a 22nd Fighter Squadron patch on distinguished visitor Russian Gen. Maj. Aleksandr Kharchevsky March 20 at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. It is the day before the general's incentive flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephanie Clark)

Col. Darryl Roberson, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, pins a 22nd Fighter Squadron patch on distinguished visitor Russian Gen. Maj. Aleksandr Kharchevsky March 20 at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. It is the day before the general's incentive flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephanie Clark)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AFNEWS) -- Twenty years ago the idea of Russian and U.S. Air Force leaders flying together and exchanging ideas was almost implausible. That implausibility is now a reality -- one focused on cooperation and bilateral relations.

Top Russian air force leaders visited U.S. Air Forces in Europe March 20 to 23 to discuss cooperative efforts and exchange ideas on interoperability.

"We came to USAFE for two reasons," said Gen.-Col. Aleksandr Nikolaevich Zelin, deputy chief of the Russian Federation Air Forces. "The first reason was because we met Gen. (William T.) Hobbins and became good friends, and the second was for our military-to-military contact program with our air force and USAFE. Through this contact program, we are solving issues concerning interoperability, and working on planning engagements where we can exchange ideas for the future."

As part of the contact program, the Russian deputy air chief received an F-16 Fighting Falcon orientation flight here, which helped solidify relations.

"During our visit to the 52nd Fighter Wing, we had the opportunity to fly on the wings of each others' aircraft," said General Hobbins, the USAFE commander. "When I was in Russia last August, I had the pleasure of flying on the wings of General Kharchevsky's (Russian 4th Combat Training Center commander) MiG-29, and two hours later flew on General Zelin's wing in the Su-27, and now we've reciprocated. I look forward to another opportunity to return to Russia."

Spangdahlem AB's wing commander also expressed his thoughts on working together with the Russians.

"This was another example of how important it is to exchange visits and spend time interacting with each other," said Col. Darryl Roberson, the 52nd Fighter Wing commander. "The more we do this, the safer the world will be, and the better we will be able to work together as a coalition to make this world a more peaceful world."

During the tours to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, there was one recurring theme that seemed to resonate throughout the visit.

"I believe the main theme that unifies us right now is global terror," said General-Major Nuzhin. "In the end it will show that we all have to work together to solve these types of problems. We are more effective when we work together and try to resolve global problems bilaterally."

General Hobbins agreed that military-to-military cooperation is essential to success.

"It would be my goal in the future for our respective air forces to fly on our wings together in defense against a common enemy," the general said. "If we can get our military-to-military work plan approved, perhaps we can teach each other how we can be wingmen in the future in an operation against terrorists or anything that might threaten the peace against either of our nations."