Bulgaria - Air Force - New Fighter Aircraft
The new fighter selection report recommended starting negotiations with the US to buy the F-16. This was clear after the evaluation of the offerings for a new Air Force aircraft made by a working group made up of military and politicians. The other two offers to our country were from Sweden for new Gripen and from Italy second hand "Eurofighter". The Government would propose the National Assembly to instruct the Council of Ministers to prepare a draft international treaty and to negotiate with the US government to acquire a new type of combat aircraft - this is offered by the Defense and Economy Ministers in their report, which was submitted 21 December 2018 to the Council of Ministers .
After 2014 the Air Force would acquire up to 20 main fighters of a new type/ generation. The key requirements which are incorporated are: through the three projects the Air Force is to acquire capabilities to provide for the air sovereignty of the country within the integrated NATO air defence system, air policing and air reconnaissance, as well as provision of air transport, combat search and rescue missions and air-medical evacuation.
Bulgaria's commitments to modernisation came in 2004 at the NATO summit in Istanbul, which set a modernisation deadline of 2016 Bulgaria and Romania. Bulgaria has made a commitment to be ready to provide eight fighter aircraft at the request of NATO, as well as 4 aircraft, if needed, for joint operations and another 4 aircraft to protect the airspace in the NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS) known as "Air Policing". Considering that 16 fighter aircraft were needed, the intention was to purchase 20 fighter aircraft.
In September 2010 Defense Minister Anyu Angelov indicated that the Bulgarian government will most likely select from among F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon, or Gripen when it decides to purchase its new multipurpose fighter jets. At that time, Angelov said the tender for the procurement of the new fighter jets for the Bulgarian Air Force would be announced at the beginning of 2011. The new plane will be selected by the middle of 2012, and the delivery should start in 2015. "Our need for a new fighter jet is obvious," said Gen. Angelov, though the investment project for this and other defense deals by 2020 must be adopted by the Parliament.
In February 2011, the Bulgarian defense ministry solicited bids for the delivery of 8 fighters from all manufacturers of Eurofighter. The EADS consortium which manufactures Eurofigheter made an offer of 80 million euro for new fighter aircraft. Subsequently Italy, another manufacturer of Eurofighter, made an offer of 35 million euro for second-hand fighters. Bulgrian PM Boyko Borissov reportedly received an offer for used Eurofighters when he visited Germany on January 17-18 to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
At the Eighth Bulgarian International Aviation Festival “Sky for All” in September 2011, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stated that Bulgaria will purchase new fighter aircraft for the Bulgarian Air Forces when this becomes of the utmost importance because of membership in NATO, while, at this stage, the main priorities of the GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) government were road construction and the increase in incomes.
Among the used Western aircraft being eyed by the Defense Ministry were American F-16s, Western European Eurofighters and Swedish Gripens. "All of this does not mean that we will see new planes by next year. The pace of progress in this project depends on what we will do with the MiG-29," Nenchev noted.
Bulgarian business newspaper Kapital explained that the Air Forces ambitions for new aircraft may be checked by the country's coalition government. The Council of Ministers froze defense spending increases late last year, citing lack of funding. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the country's Treasury have since voiced similar sentiments. Kapital notes that the substantial additional investment necessary for new aircraft are not on the horizon for the period between 2016-2018.
The Bulgarian economy faced stagnating growth rates over the five years following the economic crisis of 2008-2009. A report by UNICEF from revealed that nearly 28 percent of Bulgarians between 19-24 are not economically active. The country's economic recovery has been further hampered by EU sanctions and Russian countersanctions over the crisis in Ukraine, and by Bulgaria's decision to reject participating in the South Stream pipeline project, which would have given the country $600 million in annual transit fees, as well as favorable rates on the supply of natural gas.
In June 2015 Bulgaria approved the procurement of a new combat aircraft type to replace its ageing MiG-29 'Fulcrum' and Sukhoi Su-25 'Frogfoot' platforms. The country's cabinet approved the purchase of an as-yet-unidentified combat aircraft to replace the air force's Warsaw Pact-era fighters that had been in service since 1988 and 1986 respectively.
Defence minister Nikolay Nenchev made the announcement that he was to begin negotiations with Belgium, Greece, and the Netherlands for the procurement of surplus Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, although another aircraft type from a different source remains an option. According to Nenchev, the air force requires at least nine aircraft to retain a viable 'combat air' capability.
In July 2015, Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that the government gave him a mandate to negotiate the purchase of new combat aircraft. The total cost of the program for the purchase of fighters is 1.5 billion leva (about 750 million euros), of which 10 million leva should be allocated in 2016, 200 million leva - in 2017, 2018 and 2019, 440 million leva in 2020 and 450 million leva - in 2021. At the first stage it is planned to purchase eight fighters, and on the second - eight more. In this case, the first stage of the acquisition will be more expensive, since it will also include the purchase of weapons, ground equipment, simulators, etc.
Bulgaria would spend about BGN 2.42 B (EUR 1.24 B) to keep airborne its MiG-29s fighter jets and acquire new warplanes as well as patrol ships under a defence procurement investment plan approved by the government, the Defence Ministry said 30 March 2016. The investment project for securing the airworthiness of at least 10 Russian-built MiG-29s (eight MiG-29A plus two MiG-29 UB combat/trainer version) will be implemented in 2016-2017, the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
The acquisition of new combat aircraft would be made in two stages. A contract for acquiring eight aircraft from 2018 to 2021 will be signed by the end of 2016. Another eight aircraft will be acquired between 2022 and 2023.
On 01 August 2016, General Rumen Radev resigned as Commander of the Bulgarian Airforce after obtaining the right to retire. Radev resigned his post as air force commander to stand as the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s candidate in the country’s November 2016 presidential elections. Subsequently, officials at the Defense Ministry proposed changes in the criteria for assessing the tenders for the multi-role fighter jets.
Radev was said to have favored the acquisition of the out-of-the-box new Gripen fighters. The changes to the criteria would favor the acquisition of second-hand F-16 aircraft, from the United States, Portugal or Israel. The acquisition would involve 16 fighters in two tranches. For the first eight of the fighters, with related infrastructure and equipment, a sum of 1.5 billion leva [about $850 million] was envisaged.
At a meeting on 26 April 2016, the caretaker government adopted the conclusions of the special committee set up for the acquisition of a new type of fighter aircraft. The committee had placed Sweden’s SAAB Gripen jets offer at first place. The Swedish bid was preferred over offers for used F-16 planes from Portugal and used Eurofighter jets from Italy. The final decision was to be taken by the future government of the country. Bulgaria wanted to buy 8 fighter jets worth about 757 million euros.
The Bulgarian government approved the procurement projects at the end of March 2017, but according to the Bulgarian legislation, such large programs should be authorized by parliamentary bodies. It was expected that the acquisition of new multipurpose fighters by Bulgaria will take place through negotiations towards an interstate agreement with a particular country, rather than on a competitive basis.
The Bulgarian government was considering three proposals for the purchase of fighters - the Eurofigher Typhoon (built from the Italian production line), the new Saab JAS-39C / D Gripen (presumably leased, similar to the Czech Republic and Hungary, or a mixed scheme) and Lockheed Martin F-16A / B from the presence of the Portuguese Air Force with MLU upgrades (similar to the purchase of former Portuguese planes by Romania - the offer is actually being promoted by the USA).
It was reported that the Eurofigher proposal is too expensive and does not fit into the planned Bulgarian budget of 1.5 billion leva, so in fact only two other options are seriously considered - the Swedish JAS-39C / D new construction and the second-hand Portuguese F-16. According to unofficial reports, the Bulgarian Air Force was inclining in favor of the new JAS-39C / D, but in any case, the decision will be "political."
On 01 October 2018 the United States, Sweden and Italy sent offers for new fighters to modernize the Air Force. Americans offered new "F-18" and "F-16", Sweden's proposal was for new Gripen, and Italy for used Eurofighter. The military had requested more offers from Portugal and Israel, from Germany, as well as from French "Rafale". The deadline for submitting bids expired. The approved investment cost project envisages the acquisition of 16 aircraft in two stages of 8 aircraft for a price of BGN 1.8 billion with deferred payment VAT for 10 years.
Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said December 19, 2018 "The United States welcomes Bulgaria’s defense modernization plans and looks forward to the country’s imminent selection of a new multirole fighter aircraft. As I emphasized during my phone call with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on December 18, and as Deputy Secretary Sullivan underlined during his visit to Sofia last weekend, the United States is committed to working with the Bulgarian government to tailor the final scope of a potential F-16 sale to fit its budgetary and operational requirements, while still offering superior capabilities.
"The United States has provided more than $200 million in security assistance to Bulgaria over the last 25 years to increase military professionalization and NATO interoperability. The United States has also invested more than $100 million in upgrades to the Novo Selo Training Center and Graf Ignatievo air base as part of the European Deterrence Initiative, and plans to continue such upgrades in the future. The United States will continue to prioritize investments with Bulgaria that build NATO interoperability. The United States looks forward to completing final negotiations with the Bulgarian government."
On 21 December 2018, the working group, appointed to evaluate the submitted bids for a new aviation plane for the Bulgarian aviation, chose the new F-16V Block 70 of the American company Lockheed Martin. “The acquisition of a new multipurpose fighter such as F-16V Block 70 from the United States, equipped with the latest generation radar and weaponry, will improve significantly the combat capabilities of the Bulgarian air force,” Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov stated.
The report further proposed that Parliament allows the draft international agreement to deviate from the mandatory requirements set in the Updated Investment Expenditure Project for the Acquisition of a New Type of Combat Aircraft, approved by Parliament in June, in the event of its subsequent ratification.
Karakachanov said "The whole information concerning the questions we are asking, including about getting a better price, can be achieved only via direct negotiations between the two governments ... Given the situation, we have two options - to stop the project and start from scratch and lose at least a year and a half, or to start direct negotiations with the objective of getting a better price, all necessary parameters and to offer a contract".
Air Force Chief Gen. Tsanko Stoykov, who also chairs the joint working group, said that the rules were clear, the group was being objective, unbiased and striving to be as accurate as possible when examining the three offers.
"With great disappointment and anxiety, we learned about the intention of the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense to unilaterally terminate the negotiation process with Sweden for the purchase of fighters," Yoakim Valin, Director of Export and International Relations of the Swedish Defense Property Agency (FMV), who led the negotiations with Bulgaria for the sale of Gripen aircraft, said after the decision.
President Rumen Radev, a former Air Force commander and fighter pilot, speaking on "Darik Radio" 22 December 2018, described the proposal to select the F-16 fighter jet as a triumph of lobbyism. His comments came in response to the announcement by an inter-institutional commission that a proposal will be made to select the US fighter jets for the Bulgarian Air Force's needs. The President said that the proposal for Bulgaria to select the F-16 fighters is the culmination of autocracy this year. "This was a triumph of lobbyism. I do not wish to defend one or another type of aircraft, as I find all three to be great. I have flown on and against them. But, unlike others, I uphold the idea that the process must be transparent, open and objective," Radev told "Darik".
The price for the US-made F16 jet fighters is “higher than expected” and “unjustified,” the Bulgarian defense minister said as Sofia continues negotiations on the purchase of the Lockheed Martin’s warplanes. While the price issue is not currently on the table, officials in Bulgaria think the terms of the deal are disadvantageous for Sofia. That’s according to Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov who made the point as he was speaking on local TV 21 May 2019. "Personally, I think some of the deal's parameters are not profitable and it is a matter of negotiation that prices are normalized. They are higher than expected and unjustified." The deal is loaded with options for which it makes no sense to pay, the official lamented giving an example of language training for pilots. These courses are obsolete as all pilots have already been trained in the US, the minister said.
The contract for Bulgaria's $1.26 billion deal to purchase eight new F-16 fighter jets and supporting equipment went into effect on 30 July 2019 following its publication in the Bulgarian State Gazette. The fact that the deal has been promulgated is significant because Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who last week vetoed the purchase, saying the lack of consensus on the deal was "worrying," no longer can amend the national budget, into which the purchase has already been included. The national parliament overturned the presidential veto 26 July 2019.
The F-16 deal is Bulgaria's biggest military purchase since the fall of communism three decades ago. According to the Bulgarian National Radio, the first F-16 will arrive by mid-2023, followed by four more by the end of that year. The rest would arrive in 2024.
On April 2, 2020 Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Ft. Worth, Texas, was awarded a $512,004,418 firm-fixed-price contract for F-16 Block 70 production for the Republic of Bulgaria. This contract value included $4,185,516 of pre-priced options. This contract provides for the production of eight F-16 Block 70 aircraft. Work would be completed in Ft. Worth, Texas; and Greenville, South Carolina, and is expected to be completed by Jan. 31, 2027. This contract award was 100% funded via foreign military sales (FMS) to the Republic of Bulgaria and is the result of a Bulgarian country-conducted competition. FMS funds in the amount of $507,818,902 were being obligated at the time of award. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8615-20-C-6051).
Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said on June 4 in an address to the National Assembly committee that Bulgaria, when ordered and paid American F-16 fighter jets arrive in the country, will try to sell part of the MiG-29 fighters from its Air Force. Karakacanov said that with the arrival of eight F-16 it will no longer be necessary to maintain the entire current fleet of MiG-29s complete transition to the F-16 to protect the airspace of Bulgaria will be possible only when he delivered another eight planned F-16, which however still they were not ordered so it is not known when they could be introduced into armaments.
According to the Bulgarian Minister of Defense, the idea to sell part of the MiGs arose in order to reimburse at least part of the costs. He told the parliamentary committee that the process of procuring the first 8 F-16s was not delayed due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic. The first planes, on which the pilots will be trained, will be delivered at the end of 2022, while the others will arrive during 2023 and 2024.
On 04 April 2022 the US State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Bulgaria of F-16 C/D Block 70 Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $1.673 billion. The Government of Bulgaria requested to buy four (4) F-16 C Block 70 aircraft; four (4) F-16 D Block 70 aircraft; eleven (11) F100-GE-129D engines (8 installed, 3 spares); chaff and flare, ammunition, and pylons; launcher adaptors and weapons interfaces; fuel tanks and attached hardware; travel pods; aircraft and weapons integration, test, and support equipment; electronic warfare database and mission data file development; precision measurement and calibration laboratory equipment; secure communications; cryptographic equipment; precision navigation equipment; aircraft and personnel support and test equipment; spare and repair parts; repair and return services; maps, publications, and technical documentation; studies and surveys; classified/unclassified software and software support; personnel training and training equipment; facilities and facility management, design and/or construction services; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|