Romanian Air Force Modernization
Given the security guarantees gained once Romania became a full member of the NATO Alliance, the number of fighting squadrons of the Romanian Air Force was diminished by two squadrons. Despite programs for upgrading the MiG-29, Romania decided to withdraw the MiG-29 from service and focus on the MiG-21 Lancer (the modernized version of the MiG-21M/MF) as its prime combat aircraft. This decision has been explained by Mr. Matache, a former State Secretary for the Department of Armament, who stated that ”after a deep analysis, the air force considered that the financial investment in the overhaul and upgrading [of the MiG-29] too big an effort for a small number of aircraft.”
The MiG-21 will be in service until they run out of technical resources. Until 2010, 50 percent of them would be unsupportable, while the rest of them would remain in service for another four years. The MiG-21 upgrade program has been a major element in the regeneration of the RoAF and the Romanian aerospace industry following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. It has allowed the RoAF to jump a generation of combat aircraft. Despite an over-30 year-old airframe, the MiG-21 Lancer is a fighter equipped with current sensors, avionics technology and modern weaponry. It has been modernized in two versions: the Lancer-A ground-attack version and the Lancer-C air-superiority version. In addition, 14 MiG-21 UM two-seaters were modernized to the Lancer-B standard for training purposes. During 2005, the following companies briefed the Romanian Air Force HQ about their offers of multi-role aircraft: Boeing with the F/A-18, a joint venture with Elbit Systems, Lockheed Martin with the F-16, and Gripen International with the JAS 39 Gripen. Given Romania’s future membership in the European Union, the Eurofighter might also become a potential competitor. According to Jane’s, in February 2006, the National Supreme Defense Council approved the “conception on major procurement programs for Romanian Armed Forces 2006-2025” document. Romania's NATO status requires a fourth-generation, multi-role fighter aircraft. To carry out domestic missions and meet NATO commitments, the RoAF needed 48 multi-role fighters to be operational by 2010.
In March 2006 President Traian Basescu reported that Romania planned to take a position "in the next month" regarding its planned acquisition of F-16 aircraft. He stated that Romania's decision would be based upon the underlying premise of "how we can adapt our armed forces to NATO standards." Basescu said it was "clear" that Israeli-provided fighters "are not a solution" and Romania has "drawn a line through" the possibility of acquiring F-16s from Israel. Basescu continued that Romania would choose between "new F-16s (from the U.S.) or Dutch F-16s." He noted that the "Dutch price is good" but expressed uncertainty about the maintenance contracts for the Dutch-provided F-16s. Basescu described Romania's ultimate goal as the acquisition of Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) and speculated about whether new or used F-16s would provide the "best access to the new JSF." He stated that he would appreciate guidance on whether it was better to obtain new or used F-16s, but stressed he was conscious of the advantages of acquiring new planes.
By February 2007 Basescu expressed openness, for the first time, to an F-16 lease option, one that might be a more affordable bridge to the JSF. He noted that the short gap between the F-16's operational effectiveness and the JSF's availability was a key factor in why he was no longer interested in purchasing "all 41" new F-16s, as originally conceived. Basescu said that regardless of the GOR's ultimate purchasing decision, he said he recognized the importance of training pilots and maintenance crews as soon as possible on the F-16 to facilitate the transition away from the MiG-21s and the eventual deployment of the JSF.
In mid-2007 the new Romanian Defense Minister Theodor Melescanu walked back the approval of purchasing F-16s to replace Romania's aging MiG-21 fleet, in what many Romanian national security expert saw as a blatant attempt to increase the chances of more lucrative offers from European-based aerospace industries like Gripen and Eurofighter. The Defense Minister also put the Dassault Rafale on the table during in June 2007, catching everyone by surprise on an issue that already had been studied for two years. It was generally assumed within the uniformed services that Melescanu will recommend the Gripen over the government's stated preference to lease F-16s on the path to purchasing the JSF.
On May 16, 2008 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the US Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Romania of F-16C/D Block 50/52 Aircraft as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $4.5 billion. The Government of Romania requested a possible sale of 24 F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft with either the F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 Increased Performance Engines (IPE) and APG 68(V)9 radars; refurbishment and upgrades of 24 F-16C/D Block 25 aircraft being provided as Excess Defense Articles with the F100-PW-220 Increased Performance Engines (IPE) and APG-68(V)1 radars; 4 F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 IPE spare engines; 5 F100-PW-220 IPE spare engines; 4 APG-68(V)9 spare radar sets; 60 LAU-129/A Launchers; 30 LAU-117 Launchers; 6 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems;
The sale also included 4 AN/ARC-238 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS) with HAVE QUICK I/II; 24 Conformal Fuel Tanks (pairs); 4 Link-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Low Volume Terminals; 2 Link-16 Ground Stations; 4 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Embedded GPS/ Inertial Navigation Systems (INS); 12 AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER or AN/AAQ-28 LITENING Targeting Pods; 4 Tactical Air Reconnaissance Systems or DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods (RECCE); 4 AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Systems; 28 AN/ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management Systems; 28 AN/ALQ- 211 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite (AIDEWS); or AN/ALQ-187 Advanced Countermeasures Electronic Systems (ACES), or AN/ALQ-178 Self-Protection Electronic Warfare Suites (SPEWS). Also included: support equipment, software development/integration, tanker support, ferry services, CAD/PAD, repair and return, modification kits, spares and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering, and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $4.5 billion.
The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by enhancing the capability of Romania, a NATO ally. Delivery of this weapon system will greatly enhance Romania’s interoperability with the U.S. and other NATO nations, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world, as well as supporting Romania’s legitimate need for its own self-defense. The proposed sale will allow the Romanian Air Force to modernize its aging air force by acquiring both new and used fighter aircraft, thereby enabling Romania to support both its own air defense needs and coalition operations. The country will have no difficulty absorbing this new capability into its armed forces. The proposed sale of this weapon system will not affect the basic military balance in the region.
On 23 March 2010 Romania's Supreme Defense Council (CSAT) announced the proposed purchase of 24 second-hand Lockheed-Martin F-16s for $1.3 billion. It was further anticipated that Romania would eventually purchase 24 second hand F-16 Block 50-52s, and – if finances permit – 24 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But in August 2010, Prime Minister Emil Boc announced the government cannot afford the purchase. On 11 May 2010 Saab and Eurofighter re-presented their bids at the request of the Romanian parliament, presenting proposals that matched the price of the F-16 and offered technology transfers, 100% offsets and participation in development. And on 11 September 2011 Romanian President Traian Basescu told television Pro TV that Romania cannot afford to buy F-16 fighters without a long-term financing solution. "As a NATO member, Romania must have 48 fighters compatible with the North Atlantic Alliance's equipment. Whether they are F16 planes, Rafale or SAAB, what matter is to find a financing solution," said Basescu.
Romanian news media reported that U.S. Ambassador Mark Gitenstein said there could be a "regional effort," whereby Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia would buy a batch of new planes to help keep Lockheed Martin's production line open, reduce the cost of the aircraft and share the cost of pilot training.
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