Russia Makes Profit by the Bulgarian F-16 Purchase

PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – Bulgaria has chosen to buy the F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jet. My personal opinion is the F-16 and Saab Gripen are two very good planes for that price.

Few people realize that this type of military deal is geopolitical in nature and affects not only the parties to the deal but also third parties. Remember – geopolitical nature is the key to this type of business communication.

This is also the case with Russia. Russia makes profits from the fact that Bulgaria has chosen to buy the F-16 rather than the SAAB Gripen.

My thesis is set out below.

Was there any chance for Bulgaria to buy Russian fighters?

From the very beginning, in determining the rules of the tender documents and in the statements of the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, one thing became clear – the planes will be NATO production, since we are a member of the alliance.

Bulgaria would not buy Russian planes. Bulgaria has been accepting grants in the recent years from the US and other Western countries. The military base in Novo Selo was built with hundreds of millions of US dollars from the USA, several sailboats were donated by the US naval forces to their Bulgarian counterparts. The examples are so many

It was logical the moment when Bulgaria decided to replace its equipment in the air, the first and last choice to be the USA. The question, then (two years ago), was not yet clear – what would they offer us to buy it?

Although the Technical Commission selected Saab Gripen, the chance of this aircraft winning the tender was zero due to one important detail – Sweden is not a NATO member, and this is one of the first conditions.

So the choice was one – the new F-16 Block 70/72.

No Russian, no Swedish, no second hand, no heavy and expensive Eurofighters.

Are Russian fighter jets disturbing Bulgarian airspace?

Yes. Several times a week and this is known in the Ministry of Defense.

According to journalist from Mediapool, Bulgarian fighter jets have flown 19 times in the last year because of Russian offenders. However, I know that this number is quite low.

Is this provocation from Russia?

No, this is not a provocation. The reasons are many, but the most important is that Russia does not make sense to provoke Bulgaria, which has no quality military equipment.

It is enough for Russia to provoke NATO and the EU by disrupting the airspace of some European countries, Alaska also, provoking NATO military exercises in the Black Sea, conducting counter-exercises involving a large number of Russian soldiers. This is a provocation.

Entering in the Bulgarian territory has another purpose – “Aggressive military marketing.”

Russia knows very well the quality of our old Russian aircraft. They made them before, they sold them to us and they support them.

Here is the logic behind all this action – as NATO and EU members we must keep our borders. We are even an EU external air force border. When a foreign, unidentified and unauthorized aircraft enters our space (most honestly – the Bulgarian air space over the Black Sea), we are obliged to lift our outdated Russian machines. The more often they are in the air, the faster the flight hours will be spent and the faster the repair time will come.

Who can only repair them? Russia.

Therefore, the faster our MiGs are depreciated and the more often they are repaired, the more often we will pay Russian manufacturers for their repair.

Why Russia hoped Bulgaria would choose the F-16

Because of the consistency in military production.

Great military equipment is always made to order and individually. For example, if Qatar refuses to buy the F-16 Block 70/72, it does not mean that the same aircraft can be sold to the next on the list – Slovenia.

No. Qatar’s ‘rejected’ planes will wait for a new similar order so that changes and optimization will be less, and therefore less costly.

When we didn’t buy Saab Gripen we gave up the advantage of getting them on time. If we had agreed to buy Saab Gripen at the moment, the Swedes would have completed a large order for Brazil and it would be our turn immediately. Therefore, SAAB would have fulfilled the order within the set deadlines from Bulgaria and even had a chance to receive the first planes half a year earlier.

The Russians did not hope Bulgaria would choose Saab Gripen. They hoped (and I’m sure they knew) that we would choose the F-16 Block 70/72, because before us there were 32 F-16 ordered by Qatar, and 16 F-16s ordered by Slovenia. In a newly opened plant with a new production model and a third on the list, this means a minimum of three years until the first two aircraft are delivered.

As it will.

How much will Russia gain from our choice?

This is the keyword – choice.

If you think the amount of $ 1.2 billion for the whole F-16 order is all we will pay, this is not true. That’s why:

  • Since the beginning of this year (2019) Bulgaria has paid USD 156 million for repairing Su and MiG fighters.

According to Lockheed Martin, the first two planes will arrive in Bulgaria in mid-2023. In reality, we will use Russian planes in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Assuming that we will pay $ 156 million each year (I think it will be more) then Bulgaria will spend $ 624 million on maintenance of old Russian equipment from 2019 to 2022.

There is a real chance this amount increases to $ 750 million only if Russia decides to increase the number of violations on the Bulgarian airspace.

There is no real difference between the F-16 and the Gripen.

But there is a difference between Swedish and American investments in Bulgaria over the last 20 years.

Do you see the paradox. While Russia is provoking the EU and NATO, it will repair EU and NATO member aircraft so Bulgaria to continue to use them against the Russian disruption of Bulgaria air space.

While Russia does all this, it will make money. A Paragraph 22 – at least until 2023.

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Boyko Nikolov
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BGM`s editorial stance.