F-16s from three countries and MiG-29s in joint training over Bulgaria

SOFIA, (BM) – Bulgaria, while waiting for its own F-16 fighters, will host such machines from the USA, Romania and Greece as part of the Thracian Viper 2020 exercises, learned BulgarianMilitary.com citing Polish news agency Defence 24.

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They train together with Bulgarian MiG-29 fighters and L-39 Albatros training and combat aircraft, but also with the Canadian CF-188 Hornet and Romanian MiG-21 Lancer-R. These activities are carried out as part of increasing interoperability on NATO’s eastern flank and will last until September 25, 2020.

The Thracian Viper exercise officially began on September 14, but its active phase will develop in the coming days. On Friday, the American F-16C / D from the Italian Aviano base, belonging to the 555th Fighter Squadron, arrived at the Graf Ignatievo base.

Canadian CF-188 Hornet fighters will operate from the base in Romania. Romanian F-16AM and MiG-21 Lancer-R and Greek F-16C will operate from their home bases, training together with their allies on the Bulgarian training grounds. Bulgarian MiG-29 and L-39 Albatros planes from the Graf Ignatievo base and the Mi-24 and AS-532 Cougar helicopters from the Krumovo Air Base will cooperate with them.

The exercises will cover both joint air combat and training in the implementation of joint air operations as well as the phase of air-to-ground missions, in which anti-aircraft units of the Bulgarian army and aviation will also be involved, simulating enemy units protecting ground targets.

The purpose of the exercises is to signal and strengthen NATO cooperation in the region. This is a signal to both Russia and Turkey. For Bulgarian pilots from the Graf Ignatievo fighter base, it is also an opportunity to get in touch with the F-16 machines, which are to start replacing the currently operated MiGi-29 in just three years. In June 2019, Bulgaria concluded an agreement for the purchase of 8 [mid-squadron] multi-role F-16 Block 70 aircraft.

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Together with the accompanying package, Sofia will pay $ 1.26 billion for them. In addition to airplanes, this price includes armaments, spare parts, overhead reconnaissance pods, training facilities and courses for ground crew pilots, US government support, etc. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2023 and end three years later. The short delivery date was one of the conditions for concluding the contract, as currently Bulgaria has 2-4 operational fighters.

Bulgaria wants to sell MiG-29s and buy another F-16 fighter jet

Bulgarian Minister of Defense Krasimir Karakachanov said that it is planned to sell MiG-29 fighters after arming F-16 Block 70 multi-role aircraft, as we reported on June 9 this year.

In 2018, Sofia ordered 8 machines of this type, and in an unspecified perspective plans to acquire the other enough to have a full squadron.

The declaration was made on June 4 during a meeting of the finance committee of the Bulgarian parliament. Minister Karakachanov stated that when 8 new machines were commissioned, there would be no need to maintain the entire current fleet of MiG-29 aircraft and some of them could be sold.

However, in order to fully withdraw these machines from service, it is necessary to acquire another 8 F-16 Block 70 aircraft. Then it would be possible to fully replace the existing fighters with a full squadron of multi-task machines.

This is important because MiGi-29 has been serviced for years in Russia for rates inadequate to the quality of the machines but also the timeliness and quality of parts delivery, which often arrived late and their documentation was incomplete. That is why it was decided to service them in Belarus.

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Bulgaria theoretically has 14 MiG-29 fighters in service today. Why theoretically? Because it is realistically suitable to fly a maximum of half of them and there are no more than two aircraft in the ready state. The rest are cannibalized to keep them in the air.

The cost of 8 F-16 Block 70 multi-purpose aircraft ordered in 2018, together with service and training, is $ 1.2 billion. By the time they are brought into service, which is to take place at the turn of 2022-2023, the service of existing Bulgarian fighters is expected to cost about 90 million dollars.

So these are considerable amounts, and Sofia has planned an ambitious program of modernization of the entire armed forces, including new ships or infantry fighting vehicles. Hence, probably the declaration on the planned sale of the MiG-29s. However, their technical condition and age do not give a good chance that such a transaction, if successful, will bring significant income.

It is equally unlikely that Bulgaria will be able to order another 8 multipurpose aircraft in the near future. Both for political and purely economic reasons.

8 aircraft ordered in 2018 are the absolute minimum required to simultaneously patrol their own airspace and meet their alliance commitments to participate in NATO missions.

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