Why is Bulgaria Not Buying UAVs?

PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – In 2023, Bulgaria should receive the first two F-16s from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The deal is for eight planes and is worth $ 1.2 billion. But this is only the first part of the entire government program package, because after the first eight, we will order eight more.

It is a little known fact that the F-16 is a fighter that can become an autonomous drone and perform various combat missions and then land at the base. However, this has successfully completed the first phase of the Pentagon’s Have Raider program. In the next stage (also completed) the software of the F-16 makes independent decisions based on operational parameters and then changes them as the situation is updated. A third stage is currently under development.

Have Raider is part of a large-scale project on the future of the US Air Force and how the air battle will be conducted. This project is called the Loyal Wingman Project.

Wingman extends the combat capability of an air crew through a co-piloted pilot-based drone operated by the base.

Of course, Bulgaria is far from being able to manage and manage the Have Raider program, but a logical question arises – do Bulgaria need drones, and if so, why not buy?

Human life

The drones are controlled by operators stationed on a military base hundreds of miles from actual combat. Human life remains preserved, and with it the capabilities of an already trained operator.

Air support and kamikaze

A drone can fly to a fighter for many reasons – joint security, intelligence, combat and last but not least – the role of the kamikaze.

Here’s your situation – the pilot has some problem that prevents him from defending himself against an enemy aircraft. In this case, an “accompanying” drone can take control of the situation and explode close to the enemy, or “crash” into it.

Low operating and training costs

Real unmanned aerial vehicles are a set of hull systems, electronic circuit boards, cameras and, if necessary, weapons. However, all command electronics are in the hands of the operator far in base.

Training a drone operator also has its advantage, as the operator stays with what he has been trained to do. There is no need for cost-effective simulators.

The low price of the product

This is another advantage of unmanned aerial vehicles. According to functionality, prices range between $ 800,000 and $ 100 million.

The Hermes 900 is an Israeli drone designated as one of the best in the world in terms of surveillance and intelligence. It costs $ 25 million.

The MQ-9 Reaper is an American attack drone that does everything else like its Israeli counterpart. It costs $ 65 million

Bulgaria is indeed in an interesting geographical position. The government is working hard on energy policy by building gas hubs. Their security will be of strategic importance for the country and drones can be an effective solution.

Several reconnaissance drones with facial recognition cameras can monitor the flow of immigrant flows across the border and inland. The use of them in urban areas by the surveillance of suspected terrorists has been made for years in other countries. In this way, their help is highly appreciated by the special forces working on the ground.

The Kozloduy NPP has always been a sick topic for the Bulgarian, and especially his air space. Here is another application for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Last but not least – future F-16s. We cannot afford a program similar to the American one, but we can make our own Wingman program in which planes and drones fly together, providing greater security to one another.

The fact is that drones will determine the future of airborne action.

Many countries, including countries of our caliber (Serbia, Slovenia, Estonia, Romania, etc.) have already purchased such equipment or are working on such a program.

Some went further. Israel believes in this technique, so it develops different practical ideas. In February this year, a drone carrying two injured on the battlefield near the medical center was tested.

The Israeli aerospace industry has developed software that allows the simultaneous use of a large number of drones in various missions, also at the moment.

And can Bulgaria produce?

VMZ Sopot has already signed a contract with an Israeli drone manufacturer this year and has received a license from it.

The Optix Panagyurishte are working in the opposite direction – they have created anti-drone devices that, at a certain perimeter and at certain frequencies, disrupt the aircraft’s electronics, and it is “taken down”.

Another company from Panagyurishte – Opticoelectron – sponsored a Bulgarian drone project, providing day, night and thermal imaging cameras for its own production. Soon, they will install a SWIR camera that eliminates the fog and transmits a clear picture.

There are many examples, but at the local level. Application options too. All this brings us back to the starting point to ask again – why is Bulgaria not buying / producing drones?

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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.