First Deployment of F-35s to Bulgaria


05/08/2017: Major Luke Harris – F-35A pilot from the 34th Fighter Squadron, US Air Force.

“What makes the F-35 great is the stealth capability, the ability to get to the target undetected by ground and air threats.

“And also the fusion, the sensors. So me as a pilot pulls in all the information that the sensors detect and passes that to me and it thereby increases the lethality of all the other fighters airborne so any other NATO Allies, US aircraft we are flying with, 4th and 5th generation, are made better as a whole by the capabilities of the F-35.

“The privilege to be on this first deployment and part of the first F-35 combat-coded Squadron and here on our first overseas deployment. So this is just part of the progression of the life of the F-35 we declared initial operation capability. And now we are moving towards deployments, both to England and out here to Bulgaria and Estonia just to build relationships with our NATO Allies.

“So refuelling is kind of like an airborne gas truck. We can’t stop and pull over on the side of the road and get gas so we bring gas with us in the form of today a KC-135 tanker. The KC-135 is similar size to the airline you take when you want to go on vacation.

“So me and my fighter am pulling in within five feet to that aircraft and connecting to a hose and they are passing gas to me. So, there can be a challenge, it takes very fine precision flying to not hit the plane that you are getting gas from. You need the gas but you don’t want to hit the plane that is giving you the gas, so you fly very carefully and precisely to get that gas.” 

Lieutenant General Richard M. Clarck – 3rd Air Force Commander, US Air Force

“This first F-35A deployment to Europe was planned to maximise training opportunities, strengthen the NATO Alliance and enhance NATO’s collective security.

“To increase our dominance of the air and cyberspace domains combined with the amazing team of airmen who support it, this combat capability brings to bear truly game-changing capability.

“So coming to Bulgaria was a big opportunity for us to put this airplane somewhere where it hadn’t been before. We can understand better what is required to employ it in a place like this.

“But also it lets our NATO partners know how important they are to us. We bring this plane, our newest airplane here, to Bulgaria. That sends a message to Bulgaria that they are a key and critical partner and we want to share this new weapons system with them.”

Major General Tsanko Stoykov – Commander of the Bulgarian Air Force (English translation according to the translator in situ)

“So all this led to today, when for the first time within the framework of one such joint training event, we are hosting the latest generation, the 5th-generation multi-role F-35 stealth aircraft, which is now in service with the US forces.”