Aircom Commander underlines NATO-Bulgaria cooperation in air domain

Bulgaria’s Deputy Chief of Defence, Lieutenant General Tsanko Stoykov (second from left) meets with Commander, Allied Air Command, General Jeff Harrigian (second from right) at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, where presently U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets are flying air policing missions alongside Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters. Both generals know each other as General Stoykov had served as Bulgaria’s Air Chief prior to his present assignment. Photos courtesy of Bulgarian Air Force

General Jeff Harrigian, Commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, visited Bulgaria on October 21 to discuss NATO’s ongoing enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria and bilateral air matters. 

Airmen and U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, are currently participating in NATO’s ongoing enhanced Air Policing mission at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, giving an opportunity for both nations to work together to ensure peace and stability across the European continent.

“Our air forces have a strong and long-standing friendship, forged over decades of cooperation and a common vision for enduring peace across Europe’s eastern flank and the Black Sea,” said General Harrigian. “By supporting NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria, we’re able to learn from each other’s expertise and capabilities.”

According to General Harrigian, the Bulgarian Air Force’s recent purchase of F-16 Block 70 fighter aircraft is another step toward NATO interoperability, providing a highly capable, advanced and NATO interoperable aircraft to secure the skies in the region.

“I am honoured and proud that the Bulgarian Air Force is sufficiently capable to reliably carry out the Air Policing mission and secure the airspace of the Republic of Bulgaria as part of the airspace of NATO,” said Major General Dimitar Petrov, Commander of the Bulgarian Air Force. According to Petrov, NATO’s collective defense mission requires all Allies to carry out joint tasks in the interest of the integrity and security of the airspace of the Allies. “In this sense the performance of tasks by the Bulgarian and American crews is a guarantee of stability and security on a regional scale,” he added.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 during a fly-by with a tail of a Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 in the foreground. Both Allies are flying air policing missions together, demonstrating NATO’s commitment to and cooperation in providing security to all its members.

As a peacetime collective defence mission, the goal of NATO Air Policing is to ensure the integrity and security of the Allies’ airspace. The enhanced Air Policing mission is part of NATO’s Assurance Measures that demonstrate the Allies’ commitment and determination to deter aggression and solidarity with the members on the eastern flank of the Alliance.

“At the end of the day, our partnership ensures the sovereignty and integrity of Bulgarian airspace as part of the common NATO airspace,” said General Harrigian. “No nation can confront today’s challenges alone, and our collaboration ensures that no NATO nation will ever have to,” he added.

Bulgaria’s constant execution of NATO’s 24/7 Air Policing mission, participation in Black Sea regional defence, and presence in NATO exercises not only strengthens the Alliance, but also sends a strong message of readiness to any potential adversary.