The mission is part of NATO’s enhanced air policing measures in the region, introduced in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. In addition to ensuring the safety of Bulgaria’s skies, the joint patrols will improve the ability of Bulgarian and US pilots to work together. The mission is also a demonstration of Allied solidarity. Six Canadian F-18 jets are also operating in the region under the NATO mission, from neighbouring Romania.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy, lands on Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, for an exercise in September 2020. Archive photo by Ericka A. Woolever.
NATO air policing missions are designed to secure the airspace of Allies. The air policing jets will take to the skies at short notice when military or civilian aircraft are in distress or they do not follow international flight regulations and approach the sovereign airspace of NATO Allies.
Allies deployed fighter detachments to Bulgaria on NATO duty for the first time in September 2016, when American F-15 fighter jets joined the Bulgarian Air Force for a similar mission. From July to October 2017, Italian Eurofighters conducted the mission in Bulgaria.