- Dimitar Stoyanov was still waiting for answers from the USA and Israel about the F-16
- Diversification is also taking shape in the Air Force
- We also buy engines from Poland for Soviet fighters
The Swedish Gripen and the French Mirage 2000 fighters are emerging as favorites to replace Bulgaria’s current MiG-29 fighter jets. Initially, as a temporary solution, until the brand new F-16 block 70 fighter jets purchased from the USA are delivered. However, subsequently, one of the two platforms could become the basis of diversification in the Bulgarian Air Force, generals claim.
A French delegation arrived on Friday, and envoys from Sweden are also expected on September 20, announced the Acting Minister of Defense Dimitar Stoyanov. The delegations come after the government appointed by President Rumen Radev turned to Sweden and France in search of fighter jets to be rented or leased for temporary use. Such options for replacing the MiG-29, whose resource expires at the end of 2023, were also sought by the regular government of Kiril Petkov. However, at that time, negotiations were conducted only with the USA and the Netherlands, and only for F-16 aircraft. The explanation of the team of the then minister Dragomir Zakov was that the fighters taken for temporary use would also have to be trained to fly the new machines. If they are F-16s, the pilots will subsequently transfer to the new aircraft when they arrive.
The question of training also arises when choosing “Gripen” or “Mirage”. According to generals, however, the Swedes and the French are expected
to also offer advantageous conditions under which the temporarily taken aircrafts remain Bulgarian
and so the Air Force has more than one combat platform. The approach of the Ministry of Defense until now has been to replace first the MiG-29 and subsequently the Su-25 bombers with only one type of multirole combat aircraft to make it easier and cheaper to maintain the Air Force machines.
Sweden’s Gripen fighter jets were the favorite for a new Air Force fighter jet in 2017 under the first caretaker government appointed by Rumen Radev. Their offer was preferred over the purchase of the F-16. Subsequently, the third government of Boyko Borisov revised this decision, canceled the tender and held a new one, after which more than BGN 2 billion were paid for eight brand new F-16s.
“Mirage 2000” is a French fighter model that has been produced since the 1970s. However, they are much more expensive to operate than Swedish and American aircraft. This year
France has announced that it is decommissioning the Mirage 2000
The search for replacement aircraft was initially necessary due to a delay in the production of the 8 brand new F-16 fighter jets ordered by Bulgaria. They were supposed to arrive in early 2024. However, delivery has been pushed back to 2025-2026 due to problems with the supply of parts for their production during the COVID pandemic.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year and subsequent sanctions against Moscow have made it impossible for the Russian aircraft manufacturer to maintain the MiG-29. During the third government of Boyko Borisov, a contract was concluded with RSK-MiG for the repair and maintenance of the fighters, for which we paid over BGN 80 million.
“For the period from late 2023 to 2025-2026, when the first F-16 fighter jets are due to arrive and enter service, options are being considered. One of them is to continue the operation of the MiGs, and the other is to look for another platform to fill this gap. Letters have been sent to many countries, there are replies from France and Sweden. The French delegation will be in the Ministry of Defense today, and the Swedish delegation will be here on September 20. We are still waiting for answers from the USA and Israel”, explained Dimitar Stoyanov to the BNR yesterday. The requests to the US and Israel are for the F-16.
In parallel with the search for replacement aircraft, there are talks with Poland about the purchase of 2 MiG-29 engines and the repair of 6 more, explained Dimitar Stoyanov. As he expected a delegation from Poland for negotiations on the subject.
“Two of the engines are set to be purchased outright and the remaining six to be repaired in Poland. We have money. There are exactly allocated financial resources – over 40 million”, the caretaker minister also announced.
Stoyanov did not speak on the subject
when will Bulgaria respond to the American offer to purchase 8 more F-16 fighters
from the USA. It was already requested by the first official government of Stefan Yanev in 2021. The offer for about BGN 2.3 billion came at the end of the government of Kiril Petkov. However, she was kept waiting because of questions from the Air Force generals to the Americans. If Bulgaria does not respond by November 1, the offer will not be valid, warned former minister Dragomir Zakov. According to his explanations, with the new deal, the US offers us more weapons and compensation for the delayed first eight fighters in the form of weapons.
“Not only gas is a weapon, but also the so-called soft power is a weapon. Soft power is economic sanctions, soft power is diplomatic approaches. Soft power is training in other countries”, commented the current minister Dimitar Stoyanov to the BNR on the subject of the war in Ukraine. According to him, Bulgaria is in a stable position regarding the sanctions.
There is a memorandum concluded between TEREM and the Ukrainian side for the repair of armored vehicles, but at the moment no such request has been received.
Regarding the export of weapons, he confirmed his position that “heavy weapons should not be handed over, the Bulgarian army does not have any surplus”.
“There are no weapons that are exported and handed over by the Bulgarian Army under contracts to other countries. What is produced in the military industrial complex is exported and the state profits”, said the minister.
In connection with the criticism that behind the caretaker government are political forces that are in a position not to provide military aid to Ukraine and not to oppose the interests of Russia, Stoyanov stated: “There is a decision of the National Assembly that does not allow the export in arms to Ukraine. There are no political forces, but the decision of the National Assembly – to provide military-technical assistance.”