For the next four weeks, USAF Airmen and F-16s and Bulgarian air force fighter aircraft will fly NATO air patrols over Bulgaria to protect the nation’s airspace, improve the Air Force’s interoperability with its counterparts there, and serve as a show “of Allied solidarity,” NATO and USAF announced Sept. 28.
“Approximately 140 personnel and six F-16s from the 555th Fighter Squadron deployed in support of the Allied mission along with various units from Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Airmen assigned to the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany,” a 31st Fighter Wing release stated.
The participating F-16s will serve as a quick-response force for aircraft who fall into distress or defy international flying rules and advance toward NATO nations’ sovereign airspace, a NATO Allied Air Command release about the mission explained. This tasking is part of the alliance’s increased “air policing measures in the region,” which it implemented in reaction to Russian activity in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, NATO noted.
“Six Canadian F-18 jets are also operating in the region under the NATO mission, from neighbouring Romania,” the NATO release stated.
Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, will also serve as home base for the American F-16s taking part in the air-policing mission, the NATO Allied Air Command release noted.
The 31st Fighter Wing and Ramstein Air Base’s 435th Air Ground Operations Wing previously sent Airmen—and 555th Fighter Squadron F-16s—to the base from Sept. 18-25 for Thracian Viper 20. The multilateral training exercise helped the Triple Nickel squadron practice agile, in-theater deployments, as well as to develop local procedures for F-16 operations at Graf Ignatievo, Maj. Rohan Naldrett-Jays, the squadron’s chief of standardizations and evaluation, told Air Force Magazine on Sept. 24.
“The Triple Nickel’s participation in NATO enhanced Air Policing allows us to demonstrate comprehensive deterrence and defense through joint and combined interoperability,” 555th Fighter Squadron Director of Operations Lt. Col. Brian Lewis said in the 31st Fighter Wing release. “Mission sets like these not only reinforce the capability, capacity, and readiness of the Alliance, but generate an appreciation for allied and partner contributions. Operating together is crucial to our effectiveness.”