The Swedish Defence Material Administration has submitted a proposal to provide Bulgaria with the Saab Gripen. The proposal was handed over to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence on October 1. The Swedish offer consists of eight new Gripen C/D fighters to equip the Bulgarian Air Force.
The new-build Gripens would be NATO interoperable and configured with the latest MS20 software. According to Saab, the jets “can be delivered within a short time period, with the first aircraft delivered within 24 months of contract signature.” The package includes training of pilots and technicians and would provide full quick reaction alert (QRA) capability within the budget framework.
“Gripen is an advanced multirole fighter at the start of its development life time. The Swedish offer meets the requirements of the Bulgarian government regarding budget, delivery schedule and capabilities of the new aircraft,” said Joakim Wallin, Director Export and International Relations, Swedish Defence Material Administration.
“When Bulgaria selects Gripen, Saab and Sweden are ready to co-operate with the Bulgarian defence industry in areas such as aircraft maintenance, transferring important know-how to the country that would help to sustain and create skilled jobs”, added Jonas Hjelm, Senior Vice President and head of Saab business area Aeronautics.
“Relations between Sweden and Bulgaria are excellent. The economic co-operation is sizeable, with a growth in bilateral trade and increasing investments by Swedish companies in Bulgaria, which are currently employing close to 9000 people in Bulgaria,” said H E Louise Bergholm, Swedish Ambassador to Bulgaria.
Development of the Gripen C/D is on-going alongside the next-generation Gripen E/F and Saab expects the C/D to remain operational for at least another 30 years.
Bulgarian fighter fix
Bulgaria currently entrusts the QRA mission to a fleet of MiG-29s were delivered between June 1989 and September 1990. The 18 single-seaters and four dual-seaters went through a communication, navigation and identification upgrade plus a service-life extension between August 2006 and June 2009. Late last year the Bulgarian defence ministry announced that 15 aircraft were in active service, but only seven – including a two-seater – were kept serviceable. Are all operated by the 1/3 Iztrebitelna Avio Eskadrila (1/3 Fighter Aviation Squadron) at the 3. Iztrebitelna Aviobaza (IAB, 3rd Fighter Air Base) Graf Ignatievo.
A replacement is now urgently being sought under the two-phased Armed Forces Development Plan. The first phase, covering eight fighters, is budgeted at €768m, and led to a request for proposals (RFP) being issued by the Bulgarian government on June 29; all submissions were to be received by October 1. The jets should be delivered 24 months after the contract signature. In 2020-21 a second phase will procure a further batch of eight fighters, after a similar selection process.
Bulgaria launched requests for information (RFI) to replace the MiG-29s in 2011, 2013 and 2016. Saab offered the Gripen, Portugal was willing to sell some of its F-16s and Italy offered surplus Eurofighter Tranche 1s. Saab was the preferred option during the initial bidding process. However, in September last year a parliamentary committee recommended that the competition should be relaunched.
Although there had been two previous RFIs on which to base the shortlist, it was deemed too limited and new offers should include second-hand aircraft. According to reports in Bulgaria the defence ministry has called for bids to supply aircraft from the United States (F-16 Block 70), Portugal (F-16AM/BM), Israel (F-16C/D), Italy (Typhoon), Germany (Eurofighter), France (Rafale), Boeing (F/A-18) and Sweden (Gripen). In addition to the airframes, the budget includes the acquisition of role equipment, weapons and refurbishment/improvement at Graf Ignatievo.