Bulgaria will repair F-16 landing gear in a ‘Soviet’ factory

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Bulgaria has initiated maintenance and repair procedures for F-16 Block 70 aircraft. This development was shared by Bogdan Bogdanov, the Minister of Economy, during Defense Commission meetings. He discussed industrial collaboration involving defense and security procurement ventures, primarily the F-16 Block 70 Industrial Cooperation Program. 

Photo by Eirik Helland Urke

The primary objective of such collaboration is to gain knowledge and technical expertise in repairing various types of equipment. Up to now, the “Avionams” plant has primarily been engaged in Russian [Soviet] equipment repair, a task which is becoming more challenging due to numerous restrictions. 

The proposed plan is for Bulgaria to focus initially on repairing F-16 landing gear before offering this service to other countries. This strategy is part of Bulgaria’s initiative to establish a specialized foothold in specific modules and components. 

Photo credit: Standart

“Given our fleet of 16 aircraft, it’s not feasible to match the economies of scale achieved by Turkey or Greece, particularly if we focus only on this specific landing gear,” Minister Bogdanov noted. 

Avionams will be responsible for maintaining the aircraft hydraulics and their systems and repairing five main components, by the first three industrial cooperation projects. 

Minister Bogdanov revealed future plans for two more industrial collaboration packages. The fourth (and first of these) aims to establish support and supply chain management facilities for F-16 aircraft, integrating a dedicated electronic platform to ensure proper aircraft lifecycle management. 

Photo by Maria Fileva

The Ministry of Innovation and Growth suggested a project revision, as the Ministry of Defence already possesses such capabilities. Similarly, a revision proposal was also put forth for the fifth project [the second of the two] that aimed to foster national drone manufacturing capability. However, these proposals were rejected by Lockheed Martin. 

The Ministry of Defense offered clarifications, stating plans to establish a drone production center. Differences in data shared by the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Defense were chalked up to discrete project allocation to respective ministries based on their competencies. 

Minister Bogdanov asserted that signing the industrial collaboration pact presents Bulgaria with a viable opportunity for economic advancement. He encouraged us to recognize our country’s strengths and capitalize on the benefits of this agreement. 

Photo credit: Greek Air Force

In a separate discussion, Defense Minister Todor Tagarev discussed his conversation with representatives of Lockheed Martin during his visit to the U.S. He explored the possibility of regional partnerships amongst nations using F-16 Block 70 aircraft in the vicinity of Bulgaria. This would allow countries to specialize in individual parts of the aircraft, leading to a more structured division of maintenance and repair duties. 

Tagarev highlighted the goal of assessing the feasibility and the potential return on investment if such services were extended to a limited number of aircraft available to the Air Force. He confirmed his discussions with the Department of Defense [DoD] in the USA about possible regional specializations for countries operating similar aircraft. 

According to Minister Tagarev, the U.S. is willing to evaluate this proposal and assess its viability, possibly allowing Bulgaria to specialize in one to two areas and occasionally service aircraft from other nations. “This potential direction would involve sending our aircraft for certain services to a neighboring country in our region,” Tagarev added. “We believe this model to be economically sustainable and beneficial for implementation within our region,” he further stated. 

Photography by Thinh D. Nguyen

Remember that Minister Tagarev had criticized the “absence of industrial collaboration” while discussing the acquisition of American F-16s last year. “The outcomes from the industrial cooperation included in the package for the first eight F-16 acquisitions were insufficient. The contract for the second set of eight aircraft did not facilitate such cooperation, causing us to lose out on significant technological, industrial, and social benefits for Bulgaria’s economy and society,” stated Tagarev, quoting from a document on the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense’s website. 

There’s a touch of concern in the air, and it’s coming straight from Tagarev. He’s anxious that preparations at the airbase, slated for the arrival of the US F-16s, might not wrap up in time. According to Tagarev, the delay in getting things ready is quite substantial. Hence, the worry: the Third Air Base might not be primed and prepared to accommodate and manage the F-16 jets on time.

As reported by BulgarianMilitary.com, an order for 16 F-16 fighters was placed by Bulgaria, split into two separate batches. The first of the 16 is slated for delivery in the next 24 months.

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