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.