Bulgarian PM on fighter jet acquisition: ‘F-16 much better aircraft than all others available’ (updated)
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov expressed hope on December 14 that the offer to supply his country with US-made F-16s would be improved “because I’ve talked with the pilots and a new F-16 is a much better aircraft than all the others available”.
Borissov’s statement, against a background that Bulgaria’s decision on its choice of new fighter jets may be largely driven by political considerations, may deal a blow to the other two bids, Sweden’s Gripen and Italy’s Eurofighters.
He acknowledged that there are commissions working on assessing the bids. One is a military-technical one and the other is a political one.
“In no way am I interfering – I am deeply emphasising that, except that I want our aviation to have the best aircraft, because the situation in the region is complicated. We need a fighter jet that go into a military situation and prevail,” Borissov said.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister said that he expects that the decisions working on the choice of fighter jet as soon as possible.
“At the moment we have only transport aircraft. In the past 10 to 15 years, other governments have bought only transport aircraft – Cougars, Spartans, Panthers – without weapons,” Borissov said.
Bulgaria, a Nato member since 2004, has been in the process towards acquiring new fighter jets for more than a decade, through a succession of governments. The aim of the process is to get fighter jets that meet the standards of the alliance, to succeed the Bulgarian Air Force’s ageing Soviet-made combat aircraft, which are eating many millions of leva in overhaul costs.
In early 2017, the caretaker government of the time accepted a report naming the Gripens as the optimum offer. But that process was overturned by political manoeuvring, and the process effectively re-started in 2018.
Bulgaria invited bids from seven countries in July after Parliament approved, a month earlier, a 3.5 billion leva military modernisation project, which included 1.8 billion leva for the fighter jets, to be acquired in two stages of eight each.
Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry received four offers in reply to its request for proposals to supply fighter jets to the Bulgarian Air Force, the deadline for which was October 1.
Two offers came from the United States, for new F-16s and new F-18s, while Sweden once again put forward its offer for new Gripen jets. Italy’s offer was for used Eurofighters.
Bulgarian Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said on October 2 that it was important for him to choose the best option for new fighters for the Air Force on the basis of the financial capacity to do so.
- On December 14, Sweden presented an improved offer regarding the Gripens to Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry, an official statement by the Swedish government said.
Joakim Wallin, head of export and international operations at FMV. Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, said that the Swedish government had optimised the offer and was now proposing 10 fighters instead of eight.
“This will significantly improve the operational capabilities of the Bulgarian Air Force,” Wallin said.
“The optimised offer covers all the mandatory requirements of Bulgaria, it is within the set budget and the first fighters will be delivered within 24 months after signing the contract,” he said.