Bulgaria – US negotiations on F-16s ‘could end in July’, aircraft arrive in 2023 at the earliest

Negotiations between the governments of Bulgaria and the United States on the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets could conclude in July 2019 and the order delivered in the year 2023 at the earliest, a representative of the Lockheed Martin company was reported to have told a briefing in Plovdiv on March 11.

Production of the F-16 Block 70 fighter jets is to begin this summer at the South Carolina plant, with the first aircraft going to Bahrain.

Lockheed Martin representative James Robinson was reported by Bulgarian National Radio to have said that the package price for the deal, being negotiated by the two governments, could include the training of the Bulgarian Air Force pilots, which would last between nine and 12 months.

The F-16s could arrive in Bulgaria at the earliest in 2023 provided the governments manage to reach an agreement by July, Robinson was quoted as saying.

Training of the pilots could start as soon as the two governments reached a deal, he said.

The training included two phases, first to fly the aircraft, and then to serve as instructors for other pilots on their return to Bulgaria.

The manufacturer guaranteed 8000 hours of use before service, making the aircraft considerably cheaper to use than comparable ones, Robinson said.

He said that this version of the F-16 was the best to date. Its advanced radar system could track at least 20 terrestial and aerial targets, after which the automated system chose the most suitable weapon for attack.

The F-16 Block 70 also had another advantage, according to Robinson, a unique collision avoidance system, special software that worked in situations such as the pilot being unconscious or temporarily unable to operate the aircraft. The system would correct the altitude and speed of the aircraft, providing time for the pilot to recover and take control.

Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved on January 16 by 130 votes to 84 giving the government a mandate to negotiate with the United States on acquiring F-16 fighter jets.

At the beginning of November 2018, Bulgaria’s Defence Minister opened the offers from three countries – the US for F-16s, Sweden for Gripens and Italy for second-hand Eurofighters.

In January, a report by a political-military group that assessed the offers to supply the Bulgarian Air Force with a new fighter jet recommended the opening of negotiations with the US to acquire F-16s.

Bulgaria has been a Nato member since 2004, but thus far no government has concluded a fighter jet deal to bring the country up to the standards of the alliance. Bulgaria continues to spend huge sums keeping its ageing Soviet-made fighter jets in the air.



The Sofia Globe staff

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