The US Air Force’s (USAF) has deployed six F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft to Graf Ignatievo Air Base to conduct Nato air patrols over Bulgaria.

During the four-week Nato air policing mission, the F-16s will fly together with the Bulgarian fighter aircraft.

The joint air patrols are expected to boost the safety of airspace over Bulgaria and offer an opportunity for the two airforces to increase their interoperability.

In September 2016, the US and Bulgarian airforces teamed up to conduct joint air policing of Bulgarian airspace. It came after the Bulgarian Parliament approved joint national air policing in February 2016.

This is said to be a part of Nato’s enhanced air policing measures in the region, which were introduced following the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.

Nato’s enhanced air policing is a peacetime mission aimed at protecting the alliance’s airspace.

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The collective task involves round the clock presence of fighter aircraft and crews, which are ready to respond to airspace violations in the region or to aid military or civilian aircraft that are in distress.

Under the Nato mission, six Canadian F-18 jets are operating in the region from Romania.

In 2017, the USAF deployed two F-35 Lightning II aircraft to Bulgaria for the first time to enhance the region’s ability to host the aircraft for future deployments and operations.

In January last year, the Canadian Air Task Force (ATF) concluded its four-month deployment in Romania in support of Nato’s enhanced air policing mission.