Bulgaria has signed an agreement to purchase eight Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons as replacements for its aging fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets, which it is set to retire in the coming year, according to reports.
The letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) for the $1.3 billion purchase was signed November 28, Janes reported. The deal is the second purchase of eight F-16 C/D Block 70s for the Balkan country, and will allow the Bulgarian Air Force to equip a full squadron upon delivery, which will begin in 2027.
In the meantime, however, Bulgaria wants to also acquire fighters to use until the batch of F-16s are delivered, such as Dassault Mirage 2000 or Dassault Rafale fighters from France, or Saab Gripen fighters from Sweden, Janes said.
The F-16 purchase announced this week not only modernizes the country’s aging Soviet-era fighter fleet, but also provides needed updates to the country’s first batch of F-16s purchased in 2019, Acting Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov told members of Bulgaria’s Parliament last Friday.
“If we stay with only the first contract, we will only have eight fighter jets, but they will not have air-to-ground armament and sufficiently accurate weapons so they can perform their tasks,” Stoyanov said, Euractiv reported. The latest contract will allow the country to buy the armament for the first batch of F-16s, he added.
The F-16 Block 70 aircraft will feature technology such as APG-83 AESA Radar, advanced weapons and conformal fuel tanks. “With more than 700 F-16s operating in Europe today, the F-16 selection enables Bulgaria to be part of a web of peacekeeping coverage across Central and Eastern Europe, and beyond,” Lockheed Martin said.
🇪🇸 Eurofighters have landed in 🇧🇬 deployed under #NATO enhanced Air Policing@EjercitoAire 🇪🇸 will fly alongside their Bulgarian 🇧🇬colleagues safeguarding the airspace in the Black Sea region— NATO Air Command (@NATO_AIRCOM) November 11, 2022
Read more: https://t.co/kUK5jXSCtk#SecuringTheSkies pic.twitter.com/bN3bQutKdW
The purchasing agreement is the latest move meant to secure Bulgarian airspace following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Both Spain and the Netherlands deployed fighters to the country this past year as part of defense of NATO’s eastern flank. Currently six Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons are conducting air patrol missions alongside Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s.
The joint missions are set to continue through December 2, according to NATO Air Command.
“Joint deployments like this are a testament to the interoperability of our Air Forces within the Alliance and is a great success for NATO,” Major Zarza, Spanish detachment commander, said earlier this month.