U.S. approves sale of eight F-16 C / D Block 70 fighters to Bulgaria, mum on MiG-29 and Su-25 transfer to Ukraine

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The U.S. government announced today that it had approved the sale of eight F-16 V fighters to Bulgaria “to strengthen the security” of the NATO member country amid the war waged by Russia in Ukraine. 

In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it had notified the U.S. Congress of its intention to sell these fighter jets and ammunition to an Eastern European country for $ 1.67 billion. 

The U.S. Department of Defense, said the State Department had approved the potential sale of F-16 C / D Block 70 aircraft and related equipment for $ 1.673 billion.

The sale includes 4 F-16 C Block 70 aircraft, 4 F-16 D Block 70 aircraft and 11 AN / APG-83 radars. These are brand new aircraft, so Bulgaria can expect to receive them sometime in 3-4 years. F-16 Block D is the two-seat variant.

As required by U.S. law, a notification letter to Congress details the above offer, including 11 F100-GE-129D engines, 8 aircraft-mounted and three spares, and a wide range of equipment and weapons.

The description and value in dollars ($ 1.673 billion, while the first order was for $ 1.2 billion) are the highest estimate and based on the initial inquiry. The actual price in dollars will be lower depending on the final requirements, the budget, signed contracts, and when they are met, the text reads.

The contractor will be Lockheed Martin, and no offset agreements have been proposed so far. Representatives of the company (less than 20 people) will have to be present in Bulgaria for a period of three years to implement a possible contract. In 2019, it was mentioned that the American company plans to open a base for maintenance, partial and complete repair of F-16 fighters in Bulgaria.

F-16 Block 70 has built-in technologies developed for the fifth generation of F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor fighters and, at the same time, is a proven, combat-ready, low-risk and cost-effective solution for the national security needs of Bulgaria and NATO, said the manufacturer in a statement.

In early February, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and the U.S. embassy said that supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic would delay – probably about two years – the delivery of aircraft from the first order made by Boyko Borissov’s government.

The possible new deal again requires parliamentary approval and the provision of payments in the budget. Before that, it will be specified what format the payments will be – in part or whole – and whether Bulgaria will be able to use preferences as a client already known to the United States and under American partner support programs.

Initially, the Bulgarian parliament permitted the price of 8 new multi-role fighters not to exceed BGN 1.8 billion. Later, the deputies adopted an additional decision to deviate from the international agreement to acquire a new type of fighter aircraft from that price.

In 2019, the Minister of Defense Krassimir Karakachanov said several times that the price offered by the United States does not satisfy Bulgaria and even allowed negotiations with Sweden or Italy, which also offered offers for fighter jets to Bulgaria.

Weapons for Bulgarian F-16

During 2019 approval, the text had read that the package includes the value of the eight fully air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons, all additional aircraft systems, and future upgrades and new weapons systems.

No Ukrainian linkage

The State Department did not specify whether this sale could pave the way for providing Ukraine with Soviet-made fighter jets, which Bulgaria has. 

Bulgarian Air Force inventory currently consists of 11 Mig-29s of the A/UB variant and eight Sukhoi Su-25 for ground attack. Two aircraft from each type are used for conversion training.

The Pentagon estimates that the proposed deal for this equipment and support for its introduction and use will not change the military balance in the region.

The sale has no direct connection to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s request to MiG-29 countries to help it with such planes, said Pentagon spox. In theory, the agency added that F-16s from the United States could replace these Soviet fighters. At a regular Pentagon briefing today, spokesman John Kirby said he had not described the sale as “filling an open gap” but did not give further details.


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