After two months, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) ended the deployment of their modern F-35 fighter aircraft in support of NATO’s enhanced Air Policing in Bulgaria. From April to May 2022, two F-35 fighter jets and approx. 120 support staff from RNLAF took part in a collective defence mission and safeguarded the integrity of the NATO Alliance member’s airspace over Bulgaria. Since the start of the mission, the RNLAF performed this task in cooperation with Bulgarian MiG-29 fighter aircraft out of Graf Ignatievo Air Base.
“We are very grateful to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence and especially to the team at Graf Ignatievo Air Base for the cooperation and for being excellent hosts during this first deployment of our F-35s. Thanks to this cooperation we were able to execute all our missions in a safe and effective way. Together with the Bulgarian MiG-29 Fulcrum jets, we flew Air Policing missions defending the eastern flank of NATO safeguarding Allied sovereignty,” said Major Vincken, RNLAF Detachment Commander.
On April 6, 2022, four Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35- fighter jets landed at Graf Ignatievo Air Base near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to safeguard the skies with the Bulgarian Air Force in April and May. Based on a Netherlands’ offer to NATO, the fighter support NATO’s collective response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. For the first time, Netherlands F-35 fighters are deployed to Bulgaria under the enhanced Air Policing mission integrating with the Alliance’s enhanced Vigilance Activities in the airspace of its eastern Allies.
The NATO Air Policing mission rests under the oversight and guidance of NATO’s Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. In the south, the Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejón ensures control of the enduring 24/7 mission. NATO remains steadfast in accomplishing this peacetime task which is to ensure and safeguard the airspace within the nations of the Alliance. It is a collective task and involves the continuous presence – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – of fighter aircraft and crews, which are ready to react quickly to possible airspace violations.