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Gen Harrigian visits Graf-Ignatievo Air Base: Discusses NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria, purchase of F-16 aircraft

Release Number: 011020

Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, visited the Bulgarian Deputy Chief of Defense, Deputy Air Chief and other Bulgarian Air Force officials at Graf-Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, today to discuss NATO’s ongoing enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria, and their recent purchase of F-16 Block 70 aircraft.

Airmen and U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing Aviano Air Base, Italy, are currently participating in NATO’s ongoing enhanced Air Policing mission in 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 Harrigian. “By supporting NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria, we’re able to learn from each other’s expertise and capabilities.” 

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 defend the skies in the region.

“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,” he added.

As a peacetime collective defense mission, the goal of NATO Air Policing is to ensure the integrity and security of the Allies’ airspace.

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

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

“Our many years of experience of conducting bilateral flight drills and exercises with the U.S. Air Force have been the necessary basis for enhancing our interoperability, and I do believe that mutual trust and experience increase significantly after each successful joint training mission in the air,” said Petrov.