The US State Department has approved a possible sale of F-16 C/D Block 70 fighters to Bulgaria for an estimated cost of $1.673 billion.
Bulgaria requested to buy four F-16 C single-seat Block 70 aircraft, and four F-16 D two-seat Block 70 aircraft.
Also included in the potential sale would be engines, AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) scalable agile beam radars (SABR), Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) AIM-120C-7/C-8 or equivalent missiles, GBU-39/B small diameter bombs, M61A1 Vulcan cannons, AIM-9X Block II missiles, and Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits for 500LB GBU-38 or Laser JDAM GBU-54, as well as other bombs.
Other equipment approved for sale includes Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System II (JHMCS II) or Scorpion Hybrid Optical-based Inertial Tacker (HObIT) helmet mounted displays, AN/ALQ-254 Viper Shield or equivalent electronic warfare (EW) systems, AN/ALE-47 countermeasures, and a range of other support equipment.
Bulgaria already has 8 F-16s on order under a contract from 2019. The airframes had been scheduled for delivery in 2023 and 2024, but this has now been delayed by two years, according to Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkov, who attributed the delays earlier this year to supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19.
Another important thing to note is that Bulgaria operates 8 upgraded Su-25 and 11 MiG-29 fighters. The US State Department’s approval for Bulgaria’s purchase of additional F-16 aircraft comes at a time when the NATO alliance is looking for ways to supply Ukraine with as many compatible defense systems to aid it in defending against the Russian invasion.
While unconfirmed, the additional F-16s could be part of plans to transfer suitable fighter aircraft to Ukraine. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on April 4 that the sale, which is usually a multi-year process, should not be attributed to efforts regarding Ukraine. He did not provide further details.
“The proposed sale will improve Bulgaria’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling the Bulgarian Air Force to deploy modern fighter aircraft routinely in the Black Sea region. The acquisition of these aircraft would provide Bulgaria a NATO interoperable platform and allow the Bulgarian Air Force to operate more frequently alongside other regional F-16 operators, promoting common doctrine and operations,” the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.