July 15 (UPI) -- The United States and 11 NATO allies began their participation in the nine-day Breeze 19, a maritime exercise hosted by Bulgaria that included three U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft.
The exercise began Friday and is scheduled to conclude on July 21 near Varna in the Black Sea, according to a Naval news release Monday.
The annual exercise, led by the Bulgarian navy, also includes units from Albania, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Allied Maritime Command NATO.
Breeze 19 will focus on improving operational and tactical interoperability, enhancing interagency cooperation and evaluating Bulgarian navy units, according to the Navy.
"We look forward to partnering with our allies in exercise Breeze to strengthen our relations, enhance our ability to conduct real world operations, and build global maritime partnerships," Lt. Kevin Wunderly, Breeze detachment officer-in-charge of Combined Task Force 67, said in the news release. "We are committed to the goals of promoting a peaceful Europe and the belief that our nations are stronger through cooperation."
Radio Bulgaria reported the exercise will include 27 warships and cutters, five planes and six helicopters. In all, 2,257 service members will participate.
The three P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft are assigned to the "Red Lancers" of Patrol Squadron 10 joined in the exercise. The plane, which is adapted from Boeing's 737-800, is designed for long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The U.S. Navy didn't identify other aircraft or ships participating in the exercise, which has taken place annually since 1996.
A separate 12-day Sea Breeze 2019, starting on July 1, also took place in the Black Sea and was hosted by Ukraine.
The only nations to participate in both exercises were the United States, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Turkey. Other Sea Breeze nations were Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Sweden and host Ukraine.
U.S. participation in the Black Sea exercises are under the control of the U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy.