GRAF IGNATIEVO AIR BASE, Bulgaria --
U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, visited Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, Oct. 21, 2020.
The purpose of the visit was to meet with Bulgarian Navy Lt. Gen. Dimitar Iliev, Bulgarian deputy Chief of Defense, Brig. Gen. Petyo Mirchev, Bulgarian deputy Air Chief and R. Clarke Cooper, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Political and Military Affairs, to highlight the interoperability and relationship between the two nations.
During the visit, the leaders discussed the importance of interoperability, and how the recently concluded Thracian Viper exercise and NATO enhanced Air Policing mission serve as examples of how partners can operate in conjunction, to ensure a ready force.
“These exercises are vitally important as they allow for us to focus on regional security, access and coalition operations that improve our ability to operate together and rapidly deploy to meet any emerging threat at a moment’s notice,” said Harrigian.
NATO’s enhanced Air Policing is a peacetime collective defense mission whose goal is to ensure the integrity and security of the allies’ airspace.
“As commander, I am honoured and proud that the Bulgarian Air Force is sufficiently capable to be able 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 Maj. Gen. Dimitar Petrov, Commander of the Bulgarian Air Force. “Our collective defence mission requires all partner countries to carry out, if need be, joint tasks in the interest of the integrity and security of the airspace of the allies, and in this sense the performance of tasks by the Bulgarian and American crews is a guarantee of stability and security on a regional scale.”
Thracian Viper was a multilateral training exercise that increased operational capacity, capability and interoperability with Bulgaria.
“Watching our team successfully complete training and a real world mission from start to finish has been impressive,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Lewis, 555th Fighter Squadron director of operations and detachment commander. “For many of the Airman here, this is their first time working alongside our NATO partners, and it has given them a framework to understand how vital their role is every day, whether they maintain the aircraft, provide security or support the communication infrastructure.”
As part of the visit, Harrigian met with Bulgarian Air Force leadership and commented about how he looks forward to seeing the Bulgarian Air Force employ their recently purchased fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.
“Bulgaria has a history of developing skilled pilots and it’s something our pilots from the Triple Nickel have seen first-hand over the past few weeks training with you,” Harrigian said.
One key mission the Bulgarian Air Force takes on every day is enhanced Air Policing, with the focus of regional defense.
“Your role here sends a strong message to any potential adversary that we stand ready,” commented Harrigian. “We look forward to that message being strengthened, as we train and develop our F-16 pilots together.”
Harrigian’s visit ended as he met with some of the 150 Airmen who were deployed to Bulgaria.
The Airmen deployed from the 31st Fighter Wing’s 555th Fighter Squadron, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 31st Security Forces and the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing’s 1st Combat Communications squadron.
They developed an understanding for what the Bulgarian tactics, techniques and procedures look like regarding their every-day enhanced Air Policing mission, and thanking them for their hard work over the last five weeks.
The mission gave USAFE-AFAFRICA Airmen experience in operating within the critical Agile Combat Employment construct and developing their knowledge on how to support operations in an atypical environment, with a small group of specialists.
“Everybody on this team is crucial to our success, and you all play a role in how we successfully support the NATO alliance,” said Harrigian. “This is the future of our Air Force. You are on the leading edge of how we innovate as a force.”