The Bulgarian government is poised to sign an agreement with Sweden and France to lease their second-hand fighter aircraft amid delays in the delivery of American F-16s.
Sofia needs an immediate replacement for its aging fleet of MiG-29s, which are expected to be unserviceable by late 2023 due to maintenance issues.
Talks about leasing French and Swedish jets started when Bulgaria sent a letter of request to seven countries (including the US) to temporarily lease their used fighter jets.
Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands responded to the request, saying they could not lease their fighter aircraft.
According to a defense ministry spokesperson, only Paris and Stockholm responded favorably to Bulgaria’s appeal.
“We have initiated talks with [both countries] … to explore the possibilities for interim fighter acquisition. We have not received any offers yet,” he added.
Potential Interim Aircraft
Sweden could lease its Saab JAS 39 Gripen aircraft to Bulgaria to help guard its airspace.
The Gripen features seven external hardpoints for carrying weapons, making it suitable for combat operations.
It can carry air-to-air missiles such as MBDA’s MICA, Raytheon’s AIM-120B AMRAAM, and Lockheed Martin’s Sidewinder AIM-9L.
France could also offer its Rafale multi-role combat aircraft, which is capable of carrying out short and long-range missions such as ground and maritime attacks.
It has a sophisticated electronic warfare system incorporating solid-state transmitter technology, a laser warning receiver, detection systems, and jammers.
Bulgaria has been heavily affected by the delay in F-16 production and delivery due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lockheed Martin said it has been experiencing supply issues, thus the change in the delivery schedule from 2023 to 2025.
A two-year delay also means that Sofia could not take delivery of the fourth-generation combat jet until 2028.
“Until the F-16s reach full operational capability around 2028-2030, interim fighters will have to be used for the purpose of carrying out the air policing mission in the airspace of Bulgaria,” the spokesperson told Breaking Defense.