While Bulgaria continues to examine its future fighter options its government has green-lit funding for the overhaul of its Russian-legacy MiG-29 and Su-25 combat aircraft. The approval came on November 28, with the government earmarking BGN81 million ($46.8 million) for the overhaul and upgrade of eight of the 15 MiG-29s in the Bulgarian Air Force inventory, plus another BGN99 million ($57.25 million) for work on an undeclared number of Su-25s (the Air Force has 12 two-seat UBK variants currently in storage).
The upgrade work is intended to allow Bulgaria to maintain an air-policing presence over its own airspace, thereby removing the need for an allied NATO rotating presence.
Bulgaria has undergone a start-and-stop effort to replace its MiG-29 fleet since 2006. That effort followed Bulgaria’s entry into NATO in 2004, which was accompanied by a declaration from Sofia that it would hold an international competition for the supply of 16 NATO-compatible fighters.
But with requests for proposals (RFPs) sent out to prospective bidders for the BGN1.8 billion ($1.04 billion) fighter procurement tender in July there finally appears to be forward momentum on the project. Bulgaria aims to acquire a total of 16 combat aircraft in two stages of eight fighters apiece. The four offers Bulgaria has received from bidders for the contract include two from the United States (for new-build F-16 and F-18 fighters), one from Sweden (new-build Gripen C/D) and one from Italy (second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons).
No clear time-frame appears for when the Defense Minister will formulate a final proposal for acquisition. This being Bulgaria the entire project may still unwind before the current tender procedure reaches culmination in a firm contract.
In the meantime, overhaul work to be undertaken by Russia’s RSK MiG on the existing fighter fleet merely provides a near-term stopgap solution until newer fighters arrive.