Like Poland, Bulgaria bought its MiG-29s back when it was a strategic buffer on the side of the Soviets. Which makes hardware upgrades a bit awkward today. Sending the old fighters off to Russia for refurbishment is awkward at a time when NATO is attempting to roust the impression of additional asset rotations through Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, where a dozen U.S. F-15s were lately exercising in Graf Ignatievo.
Poland, back in 2011, used their own state-owned Wojskowe Zaklady Lotnicze facility in Bydgoszcz to start processing 16 of its own MiG 29s, successfully swapping out avionics, mission computers, a NATO-compatible databus and hardened GPS. This wasn’t gold plating. They opted out of helmet-mounted displays, state-of-the-art counter measures and fitment for western weapons. The thinking was that if they could get one of their squadrons in the air until 2030, that would do.
So it makes perfect sense that Bulgaria would think about contracting with Poland’s WZL to refit.
Bulgaria, aside from the awkwardness and the very real threat of sending their hens to be repaired by the fox, understands the inherent problems in dealing with Russian service providers. It has also been a problematic client, with financing issues shorting many of its ambitious acquisition programs. While it is likely happenstance, the public nature of Bulgaria’s considering options (the minister of defense talked about it on national TV) could be a negotiating ploy to get a better deal with the Russians’ RSK MiG, whose maintenance contract runs out in September, or it could even be that Bulgaria is killing time until it can afford to have one or the other actually start work.
Bulgaria has also been looking to replace its MiG-21s, and has shortlisted three offers out of fifteen received, according to Air Recognition. Pakistan also wants to offer its own JF-17, manufactured with China.