United States Air Force (USAF) F-35s, deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, flew a long-range mission to Bulgaria in support of Nato vigilance activities on the Eastern flank, Nato Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office said.
Once in the region they linked with Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s, based in Bulgaria under the Nato enhanced Air Policing mission, and the Bulgarian Air Force.
The USAF F-35s landed at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria enabling them to increase their range and endurance over the Black Sea, Nato Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office said.
“The ability to leverage the advanced capabilities provided by Allied 5th generation aircraft is key to enhancing Nato’s situational awareness and strengthening our defensive posture in this important region,” the office quoted Brigadier General Christoph Pliet, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations, as saying.
“Alliance aircraft routinely operate together in the Black Sea region in order to hone communication skills and enhance interoperability for future missions.”
The American and Dutch fifth generation fighters flew within the Bulgarian air space, the office said.
The announcement came as the deployment of Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s in Bulgaria to assist in guarding Bulgaria’s air space came to an end on May 31.
There has been no announcement about air force fighter jets from a Nato Allied country taking over from the Dutch fighters in helping Bulgaria guard its air space.
Bulgaria has a small number of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets. Russia’s war on Ukraine has rendered impossible sending these for overhaul in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. Poland has been considered as a possibility, but it too relies on spare parts from Russia for such Soviet-era aircraft.
Delivery of the eight US-made F-16s that Bulgaria has paid for has been delayed, with the first now scheduled to arrive in 2025.
This leaves Bulgaria reliant on Nato allies to assist in guarding its air space.
Bulgarian officials have held talks with the US about Washington making available fighter jets to assist Bulgaria.
Defence Minister Dragomir Zakov told Bulgarian National Radio that there were “many options” regarding assistance in air policing, and “Bulgaria will continue to be supported. It will not be left on its own”.
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