— Steve Trimble (@TheDEWLine) April 2, 2020
The fighter acquisition project will provide the Bulgarian Air Force with a replacement for its 1980s-vintage MiG-29 Fulcrum aircraft. The requirement for more modern, NATO-interoperable combat aircraft dates back to when Bulgaria joined the Alliance in March 2004, at which point Sofia announced an international competition for the supply of 16 NATO-compatible fighters.
The project’s journey since then has been winding and uneven, stunted by politics and financial and economic pressures.
The project settled on a two-phased procurement involving eight fighters apiece. After years of back-and-forth debates, re-scoping of the project, and placing it in abeyance due to funding pressures, the government finally moved forward on the procurement when the Bulgarian Defense Ministry issued Request for Proposals (RFPs) on July 2, 2018.
Offers were received on October 1, 2018, including two from the United States (for new-build F-16 and F-18 fighters), one from Sweden (new-build Gripen C/Ds), and one from Italy (secondhand Eurofighter Typhoons). France, Germany, Israel and Portugal did not respond to Requests for Information related to the Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and used F-16s.
On May 30, 2019, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a potential $1.673 billion Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Bulgaria, which had been approved by the U.S. State Department.
Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers then gave its approval on four draft agreements with the United States on July 10, 2019, paving the way for the first-phase procurement of eight F-16V Block 70 multirole combat aircraft at a cost of $1.25 billion.
This first batch purchase of what is ultimately intended to be a two-batch procurement totaling 16 F-16Vs will include six one-seat variants and a pair of two-seat variants. The second batch will be procured via installment payments, unlike the first batch which will be paid for up front.
According to the DoD contract announcement, production of the eight initial F-16Vs is to be completed by January 31, 2027.