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.
March 14/17: Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry has received three bids from Italy, Sweden and Portugal for the country’s MiG-29 replacement competition. Sweden is offering Sofia its Gripen package; Italy second-hand Eurofighters; while Portugal wants to sell its F-16s second-hand alongside a logistics package and weaponry from the US. $820 million has been earmarked by the government for the acquisition of eight new aircraft in order to improve compliance with NATO standards while reducing reliance on Russian-made aircraft. Formal negotiations with the preferred bidder could start as early as next month.
November 14/16: Bulgaria has signed a deal with Russia to purchase ten engines for its aging fleet of MiG-29 jet fighters. The $23.75 million deal includes the supply of four new and six repaired engines. Last year Bulgaria signed an agreement with NATO ally Poland to repair six MiG-29 fighter jets, part of a push by Sofia to reduce its reliance on Russia. In an effort to move toward greater compliance with NATO standards, the Balkan country is also planning to buy eight new or second-hand fighter jets in 2017.
October 17/16: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Defense has altered the criteria of their fighter acquisition program, lessening the importance of an aircraft’s lifespan to just 5% of the evaluation. The previous weightage of 25% was seen to favor Saab’s Gripen but this advantage has now shifted to second-hand F-16s. Bulgaria had wanted to buy used F-16s from Portugal but the plan was abandoned following the collapse of the government of Boykko Borissov in 2013.
April 18/16: April 18/16: The US Navy has awarded BAE Systems a $22 million contract external link to produce Archerfish mine neutralizers. Flown on board the MH-60S, Archerfish is a remotely-controlled underwater vehicle equipped with an explosive warhead to destroy sea mines. Deliveries of the systems are expected to begin in September 2017. The contract also includes further options which, if exercised by the DoD, could bring the total value to over $55.3 million.
January 27/16: Bulgaria will acquire new fighters to replace its older Soviet-era MiG-25s by 2019. The procurement will see Sofia purchase retired F-16s, the Gripen or the Eurofighter Typhoon as it moves away from its reliance on older Russian technology. The country’s 2004 joining with NATO saw them vow to have their MiGs retired and purchase eight new fighters by 2016. The last three of their MiG-25s were retired last December and an announcement on their replacement is expected by March of this year.