The U.S. Air Force has deployed F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets to Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria.
According to a recent service news release, more than 150 personnel and eight F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron, at Aviano Air Base, Italy, are participating in Thracian Star 21, a Bulgarian air force-led exercise, July 9-23, 2021.
Thracian Star 21 is an operational and tactical level field training exercise aiming to maximize interoperability, combat effectiveness and survival awareness while operating in a dynamic high-threat environment.
During the exercise, U.S. Air Force pilots have the opportunity to train alongside the Bulgarian air force, Romanian air force, and the Hellenic air force.
“These types of exercises emphasize interoperability and give us the opportunity to learn how to work together and learn how to fight together,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Ryan, 555th Fighter Squadron commander.
This multilateral training exercise aims to enhance the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations and provide credible force to assure stability for the region.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the whole team operate outside of home station because it’s more of a contingency type environment,” said Ryan. “If we had to do this for real, this is most likely the type of environment we’d be working in.”
Multinational training through Thracian Star 21 allows both U.S. Air Force Airmen and Bulgarian, Greek, and Romanian forces to extend joint warfighting capability through operational and tactical training.
“It’s a mix of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and long range intercept training,” said Ryan. “Then there’s also a fair amount of air-to-ground training. During this exercise, the 555th FS has the opportunity to employ a variety of munitions here at the ranges in Bulgaria.”
Participation in exercises such as Thracian Star 21 enhances professional relationships and improves overall coordination with allies and partner militaries.
“The opportunity to fly out of, operate from, and operate in an air space that we don’t normally operate in really helps build airmanship, which in turn helps build the pilot’s confidence when it comes to employing the aircraft,” said Ryan.
Along with the pilots, Airmen have the opportunity to train and hone in on operational and tactical skills in a new environment.
“It’s not just the pilots out here,” said Ryan. “You look at the maintainers, they’re doing their same job but in a different environment as well, and that helps prepare them to be rapidly ready to deploy.”
This multilateral training opportunity will test the 555th FS’s ability to rapidly forward deploy, sustain operations, and work in coordination with partners and allies.
“Any time there’s major conflict, what we learned over the years is we’re not going as a single country, we’re going to do it as a coalition of some sort,” said Ryan. “To take advantage of these opportunities is not beneficial for just us, but for all of the participants.”