From April to May 2022, two F-35 fighter jets and approx. 120 support staff from RNLAF took part in a collective defence mission and safeguarded the integrity of the NATO Alliance member's airspace over Bulgaria. Since the start of the mission, the RNLAF performed this task in cooperation with Bulgarian MiG-29 fighter aircraft out of Graf Ignatievo Air Base.
We flew training missions alongside the Bulgarian MiG-29s and other Allies deployed to the Black Sea region demonstrating Allied interoperability and cohesion
"We are very grateful to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence and especially to the team at Graf Ignatievo Air Base for the cooperation and for being excellent hosts during this first deployment of our F-35s," said Major Vincken, RNLAF Detachment Commander.
"Thanks to this cooperation we were able to execute all our missions in a safe and effective way. Together with the Bulgarian MiG-29 Fulcrum jets, we flew Air Policing missions defending the eastern flank of NATO safeguarding Allied sovereignty", Major Vincken added.
"Besides safeguarding the airspace, the F-35s conducted vigilance activities over Bulgaria and showed their readiness to ensure the integrity of the designated airspace," said Major Vincken. "We flew training missions alongside the Bulgarian MiG-29s and other Allies deployed to the Black Sea region demonstrating Allied interoperability and cohesion," he added.
"This was our first joint mission with the Netherlands F-35s for enhanced Air Policing in Bulgarian airspace," said Brigadier General Nikolay Rusev, Commander of Graf Ignatievo Air Base. "It was our pleasure to host and cooperate with such a low-maintenance and high-quality unit. We paved the way for future F-35 deployments in Bulgaria and I hope that this will be the beginning of a closer cooperation and friendship. I would like to thank our Netherlands colleagues for their effort, professionalism and understanding," he added.
The NATO Air Policing mission rests under the oversight and guidance of NATO's Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. In the south, the Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejón ensures control of the enduring 24/7 mission. NATO remains steadfast in accomplishing this peacetime task which is to ensure and safeguard the airspace within the nations of the Alliance.