Bulgaria to get F-16 Block 70 in 2023

The fighter plane is equipped with a ground-collision avoidance system in the event that the pilot loses consciousness

The new fighter planes F-16 Block 70 may be delivered to the Bulgarian Air Force in 2023. The first aircraft of this modern modification is expected to be assembled in the new Lockheed Martin facility the year before that. The plant, which is located in Greenville, South Carolina, is close to becoming operational, with the production lines undergoing testing at this point in time.

The information was revealed by James Robinson, international business development senior manager for F-16 at Lockheed Martin, during a presentation of F-16 Block 70 in Plovdiv. He qualified his statement by adding that the deal is subject to negotiations between the governments of Bulgaria and the US. According to Robinson, the talks are expected to be finalised in June or July.

“We got a really large order by Bahrain, which necessitated the construction of the new plant in Greenville. Then we secured a contract for F-16 Block 70 with Slovakia. Countries from Asia, South America and the Mediterranean region have also expressed interest in F-16. We are optimistic and hope to have the opportunity to supply such technology to Bulgaria too,” Robinson said. He says that Greece is among the company’s clients and is currently upgrading the F-16s in its fleet, 85 planes in total, to an F-16V version.

The scope of the Bulgarian deal includes delivery of eight aircrafts, their weapons system for striking ground and air targets, building the infrastructure needed, and training of pilots and mechanics. F-16 Block 70 is equipped with modern electronic systems, including an Automatic Ground-Collision Avoidance System, which takes over in the event that the pilot loses consciousness.

During the Plovdiv presentation Robinson played a cockpit recording from such a case – at a certain altitude the anti-collision system takes control over the plane and brings it back up, as the pilot is not responsive. According to James Robinson, the system has saved the lives of eight pilots to date. In addition, the F-16 Block 70 has 12,000 of lifespan before it will need major repair and overhaul. Thanks to its modern radar system, the fighter plane is capable of striking up to 20 ground and air targets almost simultaneously. The aircraft’s fuel tank is larger than that of the traditional F-16s, enabling it to make flights at longer distances.

If the two governments agree on a deal for the delivery of F-16 Block 70s for the Bulgarian Air Force, pilots from the Graf Ignatievo Air Base will undergo between 9 months and a year of training in the US. The young Bulgarian pilots, however, will have to be trained for two years in the US.

Lockheed Martin says that it is developing a new-generation helicopter, which will have twice the capabilities of the existing ones and the same level of operational capability. The company is working together with NASA on sending people to the Moon again and to Mars. It is also developing a supersonic aircraft, according to Robinson. If the F-16 Block 70s are indeed ordered, the company’s partnership with Bulgaria will also involve local academia, Robinson said. Lockheed Martin does not plan to build a plant in Bulgaria but will instead rely on Bulgarian companies to perform the maintenance of F-16 Block 70.

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