Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry ‘trying hard’ to overcome delay in readying base for F-16s

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Defence is making every effort to overcome the huge delay in modernising the Graf Ignatievo air base so that in 2024 the base is certified by the United States to be able to receive the F-16 Block 70 aircraft, caretaker Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov said on February 9.

Stoyanov was speaking during a visit to the base to inspect work to prepare it to accommodate the F-16 fighter jets that Bulgaria is to acquire.

He said that Bulgaria had chosen in 2018 to acquire the F-16 as its main fighter jet. The contract for the modernisation of Graf Ignatievo had been concluded in August 2019, but by autumn 2022, construction work had not begun.

This was a delay of more than three years “which cannot be made up in three or six months, but we are making every effort to shorten these deadlines,” Stoyanov said.

He said that the reasons for the delay included contracts for engineering awarded in 2020 and 2021, directly, without competition, adding that payment in advance had been made in full and about 202 million leva had been handed over in this way.

There had been inaccuracies in determining the parameters of the work, as a result of which the cost of the work was several times higher than expected when the contracts had been awarded.

Stoyanov gave an example of a contract that had been awarded in 2020, with 300 000 leva paid in advance. After design was completed, the company presented an invoice for 10 million leva. This contract would be revoked, he said.

He said that the first construction site had been opened in October 2022, with 36 contracts signed so far. Since then, 16 construction sites had been opened and the opening of a further 21 was pending.

Public procurement was pending for nine sites.

“In the procedures we initiate, we look for competitiveness and the lowest possible prices. We guarantee a 30 per cent advance payment with a bank guarantee,” Stoyanov said.

“The first two F-16 aircraft are expected to arrive in Bulgaria in early 2025. If the infrastructure is not built and certified, the aircraft will remain in the US and we will pay extra for them to service our aircraft and maintain them in operational readiness,” he said.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, and that’s why we want the processes to be accelerated,” Stoyanov said.

Against the background of the delay in the first F-16s arriving in Bulgaria, he said that if the acquisition contract was fulfilled in line with the initial deadlines, the first F-16s would have arrived in Bulgaria in February-March 2023. In the current situation, Bulgaria would not have been able to receive them, he said.

(Photo: Lockheed Martin)

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