James Robinson, Lockheed Martin: The first F-16s are scheduled to arrive in early 2023

The aircraft will definitely improve the Bulgarian Air Force capability to integrate with the allies

Photo: BTA James Robinson, International Business Development Senior Manager at Lockheed Martin

The first F-16 fighter planes for the Bulgarian Air Force, out of the eight new aircrafts agreed under contracts signed with the US, are scheduled to arrive in Bulgaria in early 2023, James Robinson, International Business Development Senior Manager at the aircraft-maker Lockheed Martin, said in an interview for Monitor News Agency. Earlier, he and US Chargé d'Affaires in Bulgaria Justin Friedman commented on the deal during a Sofia press conference.

Compared to the other countries that have bought F-16s, is it a good price for Bulgaria?

We normally don’t comment on price. But in my opinion, to echo the chargé d'affaires, we think that this is very similar to other F-16 programmes.

Why is the F-16 better than Gripen?

We normally try not to talk bad about our competitors, but if you look at the Gripen C/D that was offered here, that aircraft didn’t have the advanced radar, the AESA radar, didn’t have a 12,000-hour service life and those are among some of the many things that we think made the F-16 better.  

There are reports that the military equipment on the aircraft has been cut down compared to the first offer. Will the aircrafts expected to arrive in Bulgaria have enough ammunitions?

We think so. We are not involved with ammunitions, but the aircraft capability exists that the F-16s here in Bulgaria will be able to employ a full range of weapons.

Do you have an idea of when the first aircrafts are scheduled to arrive in Bulgaria?  

Right now, we expect the first four aircrafts to arrive in early 2023.

What is the agreed-upon industrial cooperation going to consist of? What will the benefits for Bulgaria be?

The first one is the Air Force Academy. We think that the huge benefit is improving training for the pilots and technicians to make them better prepared for not just the F-16 but other modern aircrafts. We think the investment in Avionams is critical because it will allow (the aircraft repair plant) to help the Bulgarian Air Force maintain the F-16, give Avionams the ability to maybe expand the business and help maintain other F-16s. 

A Bulgarian minister said that once the Bulgarian technicians get a licence, they will be able to repair not only Bulgarian F-16s but F-16s for other countries as well.

That is correct.

Have there been discussions between Bulgaria and the US about the purchase of more aircrafts, as the Bulgarian Air Force’s project target is a total of 16 new fighter planes. What would be a realistic timeline to have such a deal done?

Right now we are focused on the first eight.

Does these aircrafts make Bulgaria, which so far has relied on the old Russian MiGs, a more adequate member of NATO? Some Bulgarian politicians have expressed the opinion that this is not simply a purchase but a strategic choice for our country in terms of its geopolitical interests.    

We don’t speak to politics. But equipment-wise the F-16 Block 70 for Bulgaria will definitely improve the Bulgarian Air Force capability to integrate with the allies.  


Maintenance of newly purchased eight F-16 jet fighters expected to be done in partnership between Bulgarian Air Force and Avionams Aircraft Repair Plant

The maintenance of the eight F-16 Block 70 jet fighters Bulgaria is to receive is expected to be done in partnership between the Bulgarian Air Force and the Avionams aircraft repair plant, Lockheed Martin International Business Development Senior Manager James Robinson said at a news conference in Sofia on Tuesday, BTA reported.

At the news conference Lockheed Martin representatives and officials of the US Embassy in Sofia presented information and comments regarding the eight F-16 Block 70 aircraft Bulgaria is to receive under contracts for the purchase of the fighter planes and the provision of related equipment and technical support totalling 2.1bn leva. The agreements were ratified by the Bulgarian Parliament on 19 July.

At Tuesday's news conference Robinson said that the maintenance is part of the package and will depend on where the Bulgarian Air Force chooses to base the aircraft. Robinson said that it is expected that the aircraft will go to the Graf Ignatievo air base and that the facility of Avionams there will be part of the maintenance. The maintenance on the aircraft will be done jointly by the Bulgarian Air Force and Avionams, he said.

"There have been no capabilities cut at all. What you are getting is the most advanced fourth generation fighter jet in the world," the Lockheed Martin official said, approached by a reporter to comment what exactly is Bulgaria getting and how he will respond to criticism that some of the capabilities of the aircraft have been cut.

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