Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers gave its approval of four draft agreements with the United States on July 10 that help pave the way for a procurement of eight F-16V Block 70 multirole combat aircraft, at a cost of $1.25 billion.
The approval by the government sets the acquisition process in motion, with the requisite parliamentary approval on tap for next week. Should Parliament grant its approval, the signature of the country’s defense minister, Krassimir Karakachanov, on the four contracts covering delivery of the new-build aircraft (plus an associated training and support package) will become official.
— The Sofia Globe (@TheSofiaGlobe) July 11, 2019
On the industrial front, Bulgaria will establish an overhaul facility for hydraulic landing-gear components used on the F-16.
The planned acquisition is being made under the U.S. government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channel. Earlier, on May 30, 2019, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a potential $1.673 billion FMS to Bulgaria of the F-16s approved by the U.S. State Department.
If Bulgaria moves ahead with the procurement as expected, it will be the largest foreign defense purchase by the country since 1989.
More crucially, it will begin bringing to a close a decades-old project to replace the Bulgarian Air Force’s legacy MiG-29 fleet – a project that has remained in the Bulgarian military acquisition and modernization pipeline and undergone multiple permutations since 2006. The 1980s-vintage MiGs are used by Bulgaria for air-policing duties and the overall protection of Bulgarian air sovereignty. Eight of these are undergoing overhaul and modification work by Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (RAC MiG) to keep them airworthy until fully replaced by the new F-16Vs.
This first batch purchase of what is ultimately intended to be a two-batch procurement totaling 16 F-16Vs will include six one-seat and a pair of two-seat variants. Deliveries would be completed by 2023. The second batch will be procured via installed payments, unlike the first batch, which will be paid for up front.