MOSCOW --- The continuous delays in Bulgaria’s acquisition of new eight combat aircraft worth BGN 1.5 billion (about USD900 million) for the national air force has sparked the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) interest in the consideration of the possibility of cooperation with Russia`s aerospace industry in the capital overhaul and upgrade of the nation’s existing fleet of Sukhoi and Mikoyan combat aircraft, the IHS Jane’s think-tank says in a review.
On July 21, the national Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said that he had met with the executives of the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (RSK MiG, a subsidiary of the United Aircraft Corporation, UAC) to discuss the options for logistical support of the Bulgarian Air Force`s existing MiG-29 combat aircraft fleet. He added that the investigation over the probable acquisition of additional fighters launched by the National Assembly of Bulgaria might delay the procurement of new combat aircraft. In such a context, the modernization of the existing fleet is believed to be the best option.
"My idea is for RSK MiG experts to come from Russia to inspect the technical condition of the engines and to prepare an estimate of the funds required to overhaul the combat aircraft," Karakachanov said in an interview with the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR). He added that the option "to renovate" Bulgaria’s 14 Su-25 close air support (CAS) aircraft was also considered. "If an agreement [with Russia’s specialists] is reached, Bulgaria will then operate 15 new fighter jets and 15 CAS aircraft", Karakachanov pointed out.
The Military Balance 2017 handbook says the Bulgarian Air Force has deployed 16 combat aircraft, including 12 MiG-29A fighter and 4 MiG-29UB operational trainers (with a number of MiG-21bis fighters and MiG-21UM operational trainers having been stored). However, the pilots operate only eight MiG-29A/UB planes, IHS Jane’s says. The think-tank points out that the general overhaul and (possibly) modernization of Bulgaria’s existing MiG fleet will preserve the functionality of the Avionams aerospace facility that was re-nationalized by the national government in May 2017 having been bought back for BGN28.9 million (USD17.2 million).
According to IHS Jane’s, the facility is involved in the overhaul and service life extension of 36 Mi-8/17-family helicopters for the Afghan National Air Force. Avionams is a Mil-authorized maintenance center for Mi-8/17 rotor-wing aircraft, the think-tank adds. Previously, the plant has restored a batch of L-39ZA Albatros operational trainers manufactured by Czech Republic’s Aero Vodohody company for the Bulgarian Air Force.
Sofia still operates a large number of Soviet-age aerial platforms. Besides the aforementioned MiG fighter jet, the Bulgarian Air Force has one An-30 transport aircraft, one An-2T light transport aircraft, six Mi-24V/D combat helicopters, and six Mi-17 transport helicopters, the Military Balance 2017 handbook says.