The Bulgarian government has approved funding for the purchase of eight additional Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 70/72 Fighting Falcons – a sale which was initially cleared by the US State Department in April 2022.
Government approval to proceed with this acquisition – which is worth approximately $1.3bn – was announced by Bulgarian Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov on September 21. The additional eight F-16C/D Block 70/72s will double the Bulgarian Air Force’s planned Fighting Falcon fleet to 16 airframes, with the first examples set to arrive in-country in 2027. The US-made multi-role fighter will replace the Bulgarian Air Force’s ageing fleet of Soviet-era Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29s, of which 12 single-seat MiG-29 Fulcrum-As and three two-seat MiG-29UB Fulcrum-Bs remain operational, according to AirForces Intelligence data.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Defence (MOD) quoted Stoyanov as he elaborated on what the deal includes. “Air-to-surface, air-to-air strike capabilities are also included in the project. We will have a full squadron of 16 aircraft. It is expected that the planes will arrive in 2027,” he said.
On April 4, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the US State Department had approved the possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of eight additional F-16C/D Block 70/72s – split evenly between both single-seat (C) and two-seat (D) variants – to Bulgaria. The proposed FMS includes associated military equipment, including AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) Scalable Agile Beam Radars (SABR); AIM-120C-7/8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) or equivalent weapons; and GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs). The deal also includes AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods and AN/ALQ-254 Viper Shield (or equivalent) electronic warfare systems.
The sale of the first batch of eight F-16C/D Block 70/72s and relevant support to Sofia received US State Department approval on June 3, 2019. While the acquisition was thrown into doubt after a Presidential veto on July 23, 2019, this was overturned by the Bulgarian parliament on July 26, 2019. On April 2, 2020, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $512m firm-fixed-price contract that covered the production of eight F-16 Block 70s for Bulgaria. Work under this contract is being carried out at the firm’s facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, and Greenville, South Carolina. It is expected to be completed by January 31, 2027.
On October 20, 2020, the US Embassy in Sofia announced that the Bulgarian Air Force would also receive two additional F-16s for use as fighter-trainers under the US Excess Defense Articles (EDA) programme. It remains unclear when these aircraft will be delivered or if this EDA transfer is still going ahead.