NATO Air Policing in Bulgaria

A MiG – 29A Fulcrum fighter jet from the Bulgarian Air Force, standing by for NATO’s Air Policing mission at Graf Ignatievo Airbase, Bulgaria. – NATO photo by Cynthia Vernat, Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office

RAMSTEIN, Germany – With its accession in 2004, the airspace of Bulgaria became part of the Alliance airspace and the Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 fighter jets were included in NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS).

A continuous mission in peacetime, crisis and times of conflict, NATINAMDS safeguards Alliance populations, territory and forces in accordance with international law. Allied Air Command at Ramstein, Germany oversees this collective mission with its two Combined Air Operations Centres at Uedem, Germany, and Torrejon, Spain. Allies provide their national air surveillance networks and fighter assets that are on alert 24/7 to execute NATO Air Policing safeguarding the Alliance airspace in peacetime.

In Bulgaria, this mission is accomplished by MiG-29 fighter jets from the 3rd Air Base, Graf Ignatievo, about a two-hour drive away from the capital of Sofia.

Commanded by Brigadier General Ivan Lalov, the 3rd Air Base is the biggest and most combat ready unit within the Bulgarian Air Force. Graf Ignatievo Airfield has been in existence since 1940. It is located in the heart of Southern Bulgaria within the Upper Thracian Plain. In 1937, with a Royal Decree № 1294, land from the North-west part of the Graf Ignatievo village was expropriated and compensated. Subsequently the building of a hangar, staff buildings, water-supply and sewage/drainage system installations began. Fast forward to today and the 3rd Air Base has up-to-date aircraft, modern communication, navigation and information equipment; all reconstructed in accordance with NATO and ICAO standards.

The MiG – 29A Fulcrum is designed as an air-superiority fighter with some limited air-to-ground capability making it ideal to take to the skies to execute the Air Policing mission.

Under NATO’s Assurance Measures, Allies are currently being deployed to Bulgaria under the enhanced Air Policing mission to supplement Bulgarian capability and enhance interoperability. This mission was introduced during NATO’s Wales Summit in 2014; it underlines Allied collective resolve to defend and deter aggression against NATO Allies. Italian Eurofighters are flying missions with the Bulgarian Air Force fighters from July to October 2017 under this concept. They provide the CAOC with a more flexible response to launch fighters and preserve the integrity of Allied airspace.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office

4 thoughts on “NATO Air Policing in Bulgaria”

  1. I still cannot get to grips with soviet built aircraft being in NATO, it just doesn’t fit my logical way of thinking! What great opportunities it gives for a like-for-like comparison and capability analysis.

    1. Quite right Andy. I particularly like the Polish air force Sukhoi Su-22M4. I saw a pair at Air Tattoo one year, it really was an impressive looking aircraft. Unfortunately, for many Russian aircraft operators in the West, their aircraft are becoming outdated. Tony pointed this out recently with respect to the Romanian’s operating 1970s era MiG-21 LanceRs. Most of the MiG-29s being operated are early models too, and not nearly as capable as the Russian MiG-29SMT or MiG-35 models, but still useful to operate with alongside their NATO counterparts for comparison. Thanks Andy.

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