The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-35 have arrived in Bulgaria. Together with the Bulgarian Air Force they will safeguard the NATO-airspace over Bulgaria out of Graf Ignatievo Airforce Base from April up and until May 31. While deployed in Bulgaria, Netherlands F-35s, will perform this task in co-operation with the Bulgarian Air Force. Air Policing shows that the Allies are willing to combine and share capabilities for the benefit of collective defence.
The fighter fitted with RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers, carried live AIM-9X Sidewinders on the external rail launchers as well as AIM-120D inside the internal weapons bay. The deployment of the aircraft was preceded by the activity of 13 Army engineers that worked on the construction of the clamshell hangars at Graf Ignatievo, that are used to recover the F-35. The deployment of the jets is also accompanied by a contingent of Dutch Marines that provide the force protection of the aircraft.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force fighters, along with Bulgarian Air ForceMiG-29 fighter jets, will help protect the airspace of the Black Sea country until May 31, in line with NATO’s integrated plan for air and anti-missile defence. They will replace four Spanish fighter jets that have been supporting airspace surveillance of Bulgaria since the middle of February. Bulgaria, on NATO’s eastern flank, is also setting up a battlegroup of up to 1,000 troops in close cooperation with the alliance.
The surveillance of NATO airspace (Air Policing) is a task that is performed 24 hours a day, also in the Netherlands. Civilian and military aircraft that do not comply with the international agreements for the use of airspace or that approach NATO airspace without permission, may be intercepted by deployment of (armed) fighter aircraft (Quick Reaction Alert). The F35s are originated to the 322 Fighter Squadron that operates normally out of Leeuwarden Air Force Base.