Bulgaria’s plan for replacement fighter jets falters

The February 15 deadline for Bulgaria to receive offers to supply replacement fighter jets pending the arrival of the F-16s it is to acquire has passed with only one offer, and that was one that was not acceptable, caretaker Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov said in a television interview.

Bulgaria’s Soviet-era MiG-29s face being grounded at the end of 2023, and it will take delivery of the first of the 16 US-made F-16 fighter jets in 2025.

Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry approached the US and Israel about second-hand F-16s, France about Mirage 2000-9s and Sweden about Gripens.

Stoyanov, speaking to bTV on February 20, said: “There is an offer for a replacement fighter that has been presented to us but there is no point commenting on it because it is not acceptable”.

Bulgaria’s caretaker government had come up with the idea of paying for the replacement fighters over 10 to 15 years, expecting to pay about 100 million to 120 million leva a year, a sum that the Defence Ministry said that it could afford.

In October 2022, it was announced that Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry had in August sent Poland a request for the purchase or overhaul of six MiG-29 fighter jet engines.

It appears that this could result in Bulgaria receiving no more than two MiG-29 engines from Poland, which is placing its emphasis on helping Ukraine defend itself in Russia’s war against it.

In mid-February, the commander of Bulgaria’s Graf Ignatievo air base, Brigadier General Nikolai Rusev, told Bulgarian news agency BTA that the maintenance of the aircraft was becoming more difficult because of the suspension of the supply of spare parts.

“We should think whether it is admissible to ground Bulgaria’s fighter aircraft. Once a working machine is stopped, it is very difficult to bring it back into operation. The F-16s which the country has ordered will arrive, but these fighters are not a cure-all. Once you lose capabilities, recovery is sometimes impossible,” Rusev said.

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