A Bulgarian Air Force MiG-21(Image (CC) Russavia)

Bulgaria dodging NATO fighter commitment

The government of Bulgaria is dodging its NATO commitment in providing the military alliance and itself the necessary modern air assets. With the Southeast European country’s finances still in bad shape, there will be no funds made available for a new multi-role aircraft for years to come.

2016. That’s the year that the Bulgarian Air Force (Военновъздушни сили) promised NATO it would not only have its MiG-29s modernised, it would also have eight modern multi-role fighters up and running, saying goodbye to the beautiful but ancient six remaining MiG-21bis/UM planes its air force’s 1st Fighter Squadron at Graf Ignatievo Airbase is flying now.

A Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29UM takes off for a combat training mission during exercise Rodopi Javelin 2007 at Graf Ignattevo Airbase, Bulgariaon 17 October 2007. (Image © Staff Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth / USAF)
A Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29UM takes off for a combat training mission during exercise Rodopi Javelin 2007 at Graf Ignattevo Airbase, Bulgariaon 17 October 2007. (Image © Staff Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth / USAF)

But as Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said during a parliamentary meeting this week, the Ministry of Defence’s request to modernise has been denied. In short: the four modern combat aircraft available to international operations won’t be there as promised and neither will be the second quartet to defend Bulgaria. Unless the leadership in Sofia makes a 180 degree turn, it will break the promises made when Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004.

Insiders saw a big opportunity for the relatively affordable lease of the easy to maintain Swedish-made SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen jets, like Hungary, the Czech Republic and soon Slovakia have arranged. Or for second-hand American-made General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16A/B/C/D Fighting Falcons, like Bulgaria’s northern neighbour Romania choose to do.

A Turkish Air Force F-16C (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Teaming up with their Turkish and Romanian neighbours and deploy F-16s might be a wise choice for Bulgaria (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Bulgaria will rely on its modernised, but somewhat outdated and often not fully operational 12 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29S and 3 MiG-29UB (NATO-name Fulcrum) air-defence fighters of 2nd Fighter Squadron at Graf Ignatievo to keep the country safe from an ever increasing Russian military machine just an hour away. About 250 (410 km) from Bulgaria’s shores is Russia’s “new” Belbek Airbase at the Crimea peninsula, Russian forces took from Ukraine in February and March 2014. In November Moscow moved 10 very modern Sukhoi Su-27SM and 4 Su-30s to Belbek, promising there will be 24 of these ultra-modern Flankers by the end of the year.

Meanwhile Bulgarian MiG-21 pilots will play a B-role, while the new nine F-16 pilots of the Romanian Air Force (Forţele Aeriene Române) as well as fighter jocks of Turkish Air Force (Türk Hava Kuvvetleri) F-16s and F-4s might have to aid in the air-defence of their cash-short neighbour. To make matters worse: as the war in eastern Ukraine has shown Bulgaria’s remaining “Frogfoot” force of 10 Sukhoi Su-25Ks 4 Su-25UBKs flying with the 1st Ground Attack Squadron at Bezmer Airbase will be no match for the standard portable air-defence systems that Russia deploys these days.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Related: First Romanian pilots fly F-16 solo

A Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 (Image © Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
Clear and present danger: a Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 somewhat similar to the ones Moscow placed an hour away from Bulgaria at Belbek Airbase the Russians took from Ukraine (Image © Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
A Bulgarian Air Force MiG-21(Image (CC) Russavia)
A Bulgarian Air Force MiG-21 (Image (CC) Russavia)