Recently Bulgaria announced that the Swedish Gripen won the 2016 competition for eight combat aircraft issued last year. The Bulgarian air force currently depends on 15 MiG-29 fighters but only about half are flyable. The reason behind this is Russian anger at Bulgaria for rejecting Russian guidance. Most annoying was Bulgaria joining NATO. Russia shows its displeasure by making it more difficult to get spare parts and tech support in maintaining MiG-29s. These aircraft are already notorious for being very expensive to maintain. Gripen will actually be cheaper and the Swede’s have an excellent reputation when it comes to support. Another reason for buying Gripen is to show other NATO members that Bulgaria is activity reorganizing their armed forces to NATO standards. MiG-29s don’t work for that.
The Gripen deal is estimated to be worth about $832 million but now a few rumors point that initial Swedish offer was around 560 million dollars. The final contract will include 8 Gripen C/D aircrafts, spare parts, weapons and training. Moreover the Swedes promised to deliver the first Gripen aircrafts within 18 months after signing contact and also offered a deferred payment scheme which will be a very good thing for tight Bulgaria’s defense budget.
The 2016 competition put Gripen up against used F-16s that would have cost about $835 million dollars. The third competitor was used early model Eurofighters from Italy that apparently would cost more than the Portuguese F-16s.
The JAS-39 Gripen entered active service in 1997. It is a14 ton jet roughly comparable to the latest versions of the F-16. The Gripen is small but can carry up to 3.6 tons of weapons. With the increasing use of smart bombs, this is adequate. Often regarded as an also-ran in the current crop of "modern jet fighters", the Gripen is proving to be more competition than the major players (the F-16, F-18, F-35, Eurofighter, Rafale, MiG-29, and Su-27) expected. Put simply, Gripen does a lot of little (but important) things right and costs about half as much (at about $35 million each) as its major competitors. More importantly, Gripen also costs about half as much, per flight hour, to operate (compared to bigger twin engine aircraft). In effect, Gripen provides the ruggedness and low cost of Russian aircraft with the high quality and reliability of Western aircraft. For many nations this is an appealing combination. The Gripen is easy to use (both for pilots and ground crews) and capable of doing all jet fighter jobs (air defense, ground support, and reconnaissance) well enough.
The choice of preferred offer is only the beginning because now there will be held negotiations which producer and government-to-government purchase agreement have to be signed later. However it looks like Bulgaria prefers the new aircraft over used ones and what is important actual Bulgarian president Rumen Radev (ex Air Force Commander) heavily criticized the idea to buy used aircrafts. -- Przemysław Juraszek