Faced with Russia’s military buildup in the Black Sea, Romania is set to acquire US-made Patriot anti-aircraft and missile-defense systems as well as 36 F-16 fighters in order to bolster its air-defense capabilities.
Former defense minister Adrian Țuțuianu has stated that Romania intends to acquire the new missile system starting in 2018, when the first Patriot battery should arrive; the first payment should be made in November 2017. The program is estimated at $3.9 billion, and the Romanian parliament is set to approve the cabinet’s acquisition plans in October, during its fall session.
Both Romania’s land-based air defenses and fighter force are obsolete. With the exception of the Hawk missile system, which was acquired in 2004, Romania’s air-defense systems are of Soviet origin. Soldiers operating these systems complain about the difficulties encountered in maintaining the obsolete technology and the limited amount of live-fire drills, which hamper operational readiness. Bucharest is keenly aware of this situation. It has begun investing in long-range mobile radars as well as air-defense systems, and it has started re-capitalizing its fighter force.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea has highlighted the obsolescence of Romania’s air defenses. As the Kremlin built up its forces on the peninsula, Russian aircraft began aggressively patrolling in the Black Sea. Romanian aircraft have been forced to intercept these Russian planes when they approach the country’s air space.
However, in deterrence terms, it is not particularly credible to intercept Su-27/30 fighters or Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers with aging MiG-21s. Consequently, Bucharest has asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to step in and assist. And since 2016, US, Canadian, Portuguese and British aircraft have been bolstering Romania’s air defenses, on a rotational basis.
The programs to modernize Romanian air defenses gained new traction given the current regional circumstances. However, these programs are fraught with technical and financial challenges. The F-16 acquisition, the flagship of the modernization process of the Romanian Air Force, risks stalling as the international demand for Fighting Falcons has outstripped supply, even when it comes to used aircraft.
As Lockheed Martin ramps up production of the F-35 Lightning II, F-16 production has been relocated and slowed down due to a lack of new orders. Originally, Romania planned to acquire 24 aircraft, but due to financial reasons it had to settle on 12. In hindsight, this proved to be a bad decision. It is unlikely that Romania will order newly built F-16s in the near future due to the associated costs as well as the prevailing acquisition strategy, which sees the Fighting Falcon as a bridge toward ultimately purchasing the F-35.
Current plans envisioned the acquisition of a second F-16 squadron between 2017 and 2019, concurrently with the phasing out of the MiG-21. However, this may not be the case, as the market for used F-16 has tightened. Right now, Romania is competing for used F-16s with Bulgaria and Croatia, countries which are also looking to replace their obsolete Soviet aircraft. (end of excerpt)
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