On Friday, the Air Force completed Thracian Star 21, an exercise designed to improve interoperability and combat effectiveness.
The exercise, led by the Bulgarian Air Force and organized at Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria, involved more than 150 people and eight F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the notorious 555th Fighter Squadron – known as name of “Triple Nickel” – based at Aviano Air Base in Italy.
The exercise consisted of “offensive and defensive anti-aircraft missions, protection of high-value assets and close air support in a contested environment,” the service said. In addition, the US Air Force’s F-16s fired a total of 27 inert training rounds, 180 rockets, and approximately 7,000 rounds of 20mm rounds.
“It’s a mix of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and long-range intercept training,” US Air Force Lt. Col. John Ryan, commanding officer of the 555th Fighter Squadron, said in a statement. Air Force press. “During this exercise, the 555th FS had the opportunity to use a variety of ammunition on the ranges in Bulgaria.”
Although the Bulgarian Air Force does not generally work alongside Joint Attack Controllers, this exercise allowed them to do so.
“We conducted close air support with the Bulgarian SU-25s and this was the first time they used US Joint Attack Controllers on the firing range,” US Air Force Captain Justin Goar, 555th FS F-16 pilot and Thracian Star 21 project officer, said in the statement. “Normally they don’t use JTACs, but as a NATO nation they could potentially find themselves working with JTACs and integrating with other NATO air-to-ground assets over there. ‘to come up.”
U.S. Airmen from 435 Construction and Training Squadron and 4 Combat Training Squadron based at Ramstein Air Base in Germany also participated in the exercise. And in addition to the Bulgarian Air Force, the 555th Fighter Squadron also worked alongside the Romanian and Hellenic Air Forces.
“Exercises like Thracian Star are essential to our role in Aviano as a trusted NATO ally,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Reid Chlasta, officer in charge of 31 Aircraft Maintenance Squadron , in the press release. “The integration with our Bulgarian counterparts offers us new perspectives and shows us where and how we can multiply our strengths, especially in those functions which have a direct impact on our output generation capabilities. “
Bulgaria is expected to receive eight F-16s in 2024 or 2025. As a result, the Bulgarian Air Force has developed an F-16 training program designed for pilots and maintenance technicians.