Bulgaria Air Policing Flagbearer: history and mission of Graf Ignatievo Air Force Base
Image 1. Bulgarian and Spanish jet fighter crews, as well as authorities such as His Excellency Mr. Alejandro Polanco, Ambassador of Spain in Bulgaria; Gen. Braco Carbó; Gen. Athanasios Sextos, and Adm. Eftimov, during the arrival ceremony of the Spanish Strela Detachment to Graf Ignatievo Air Base. Source: Bulgarian Ministry of Defense (mod.bg).
NATO's deterrence response
On February 11th, 2022, the first deployment of Spanish fighters to Bulgarian soil in the history of the Spanish Air Force took place. The Strela (transcript from the Bulgarian стрела: Arrow) detachment, comprised of 4 EF-2000 (Eurofighter Typhoon) and 130 members of the Spanish Air Force Ala-14, was deployed as part of the Enhanced Air Policing (EAP) mission carried out by NATO member countries in the Balkans. This mission is part of NATO's deterrence response to the Russian occupation of the Crimea Peninsula back in 2014, reinforcing the surveillance of the Southern Flank's airspace of the Alliance and strengthening the cooperation between NATO members.
This air policing mission and its development have brought a new term to the Spanish news media that has started to be familiar within the Spanish society: Graf Ignatievo, the name of the Bulgarian Air Force Base that hosted the Spanish Strela Detachment during its mission.
This article aims to take the reader on a brief journey through the history of the Graf Ignatievo air base, its evolution, and commitment to national security from its origins to the present day.
Graf Ignatievo, from Royal Airfield to Jet Air Base
The jet era and the Cold War security environment
The political and military transition of Bulgaria towards democracy: the case of Graf Ignatievo
To Ltc. Kumanova and Major Tsonkov, without whose help this brief introduction to the history of Graf Ignatievo Air Base would not have been possible.