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Bulgarian Air Force
Active 1906- present
Country  Bulgaria
Allegiance NATO
Role Defence of Bulgarian air space
Size 154 + 11 orders
Anniversaries 16th October
Commanders
Air Force Commander Major General Konstantin Popov
Insignia
Roundel Bulgarian Air Force roundel.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack Su-25, Mi-24
Fighter MiG-29
Interceptor MiG-21
Patrol Bell 206, Mi-14
Reconnaissance An-30
Trainer L-39, PC-9
Transport An-24, An-26, Cougar, L-410, Mi-17, PC-12, C-27J Spartan

The Bulgarian Air Force (Bulgarian: Военновъздушни сили, ВВС) is a branch of the Bulgarian Army, the other two being the Bulgarian Navy and Bulgarian land forces. Its mission is to guard and protect the sovereignty of Bulgarian airspace, to provide aerial support and to assist the Land Forces in case of war. The Bulgarian Air Force is one of the oldest air forces in Europe and the world. In recent times it has been actively taking part in numerous NATO missions and exercises in Europe. The current commanding officer of the Bulgarian Air Force is Lieutenant-General Simeon Simeonov.

Contents

History

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Early years

Boris Maslennikov's airplane in flight, Sofia 1910

The history of the Bulgarian Air Force can be traced back to the end of the 19th century, when in 1892 at the Plovdiv International Fair two lieutenants of the Bulgarian Army flew with the ‘La France’ airship of the Frenchman Goddard. Later, being inspired by the flight, they succeeded to convince the General Staff that the Bulgarian Army should build a balloon force. The Imperial Aviation School in St. Petersburg enrolled Lieutenant Vasil Zlatarov as a student, following numerous refusals from military schools around Europe to teach Bulgarian officers to use airships. On 20 April 1906 “Vazduhoplavatelno Otdelenie” (roughly translated as Aviation Department) was created to operate observation balloons for the army. After graduation Lt. Zlatarov was appointed its first commander. The first generation of Bulgarian aviators were trained on a balloon named ‘Sofia-1’, constructed by Zlatarov with materials bought from Russia.

In 1910 a Russian aircraft engineer, Boris Maslennikov, was invited to Bulgaria, where he presented his airplane, a modification of the French Farman III. Following his demonstration assisted by Vasil Zlatarov over the hippodrome in Sofia, the Bulgarian Government decided to acquire airplanes for The Aviation Corps. In early 1912 thirteen army officers were sent abroad for training as pilots and orders were placed for five French, British and German airplanes. In June 1912 Lt. Simeon Petrov[1], training at the school of Louis Blériot in France, for the first time in the history of aviation succeeded to land an airplane with a stopped engine. The event was praised in the French newspapers and La Poste, and the French mail service acknowledged it by publishing a stamp. The officers sent to France completed their training first and returned to Bulgaria in July 1912. The same year Bulgaria received its first airplane – Bleriot XXI with which on 13 August 1912 Simeon Petrov flew to become the first Bulgarian to pilot an airplane over Bulgaria.

First and Second Balkan Wars

The First Balkan War proved the words of the great French military theorist Ferdinand Foch that aviation is of no military value, to be completely wrong. Following the outbreak of the war, the Bulgarian pilots still abroad hastily procured aircraft to follow them home. Many foreign volunteer pilots, along with military journalists from all over Europe, arrived in Bulgaria. After the front lines had stabilized, an Aeroplane Platoon was established at a new airfield closer to the fighting.

On October 15, 1912 an order was issued to gather intelligence about the Turkish army strength and dispositions in the Odrin keep. Following the order, on October 16, two airmen - Radul Milkov and Prodan Tarakchiev - performed a reconnaissance flight over the city in an Albatros biplane. During the course of the flight Milkov and Tarakchiev dropped bombs over the railway station in Kara-Aghatch (it was considered a military target). Only after their successful return from the mission did the crew discover that the plane had suffered substantial damage from the anti-airship batteries at Odrin.

Later that month the Bulgarian Aviation Corps was expanded to three Aeroplane Platoons. Foreign volunteers began flying operational sorties alongside Bulgarian pilots and carried out multiple reconnaissance, leaflet-dropping and bombing missions. During the war at least three aircraft were shot down. Considerable help was received from the Russians in terms of aircraft, maintenance and training. Due to low aircraft serviceability and frequent training accidents, the actual number of missions flown was relatively low. Despite that the Bulgarian airmen and their foreign helpers were able to gather enough aerial reconnaissance for the Army General Staff to make use of.

World War I (1914-1918)

Aviation sign from 1915 to 1918

The Kingdom of Bulgaria entered World War I as an ally of the Central Powers on October 4, 1915. The Bulgarian nation of 5 million raised a 616,680-strong army. It was the only country (along with Italy to some extent) which had experience with military aviation, dating before the war - at a time when war strategists such as Marshal Foch of France found the airplane a machine completely useless for the military.

The Aeroplane Section of the Bulgarian Army was deployed to Kumanovo Airfield in support of the rapidly advancing Bulgarian forces, but bad weather make flying virtually impossible upon arrival. To that moment the section had completed 11 combat sorties, flown from an airfield in Sofia (a location today occupied by the central railway station of the Bulgarian capital). With the advance of the frontline the unit re-deployed to airfields near Belitsa and Xanthi (an area populated by Bulgarian majority at the time; presently the region is part of Greece). The newly acquired German LVG aircraft were hastily pressed into action. Two more airfields were constructed near Udovo and Levunovo. The Allies started conducting reconnaissance and bomber sorties against the forward Bulgarian ground units on the Southern Balkan Front. Through the entire period of fighting in World War I the Bulgarian military aviation experienced a steady boost in both numbers and quality of the types of aircraft in its inventory. However, they still were inferior to those, flown by the Allies, especially the British and French. The First Aeroplane Section (the country's only aircraft unit) was attached to the Second Bulgarian Army. It flew 255 sorties, compared with 397, flown by the four squadrons of the Entente it opposed. The Section operated the following types:

  • 12 LVG B.II - recon planes, the first group of six arriving in November 1915. Those venerable two seaters were also used as fighters by the Bulgarians, since no dedicated "scouts" were available.
  • 13 Otto C.I - an exotic twin-tailed bombers. The received its first Otto in May 1916.
  • 18 Albatros C.III - recon planes, also used as trainers. First delivery in August 1916.
  • 12 DFW C.Vrecon planes, first arriving in August 1917.
  • 6 Roland D.II fighters. During July 1917 the first of these arrived with the Section.
  • 6 Roland D.III fighters planes, the first arriving at the end of 1917.
  • 3 Fokker E.III fighters planes, first of these delivered in the spring of 1916.
  • 8 Fokker D.VII Bulgaria's finest fighter of WW1. Delivery took place in September 1918. The D.VIIs weren't pressed into action, 7 them were scrapped in accordance with the peace treaty. The 8th would fly as a pseudo two-seater after the war.
  • 2 Albatros C.I. These were ordered by the Ottoman Empire before Bulgaria entered the war. During early 1915 the couple landed on Bulgarian territory by a navigational mistake, and the then-neutral country requisitioned them.

In addition, the Bulgarian Navy used the following airplanes:

  • 8 Friedrichshafen FF-33 floatplane bombers for the Navy, first in 1916
  • 2 Rumpler 6B-1 floatplane fighters for the Navy, first in 1916

A number of Bulgarian pilots flew with German air units at the Western Front. Even more pilots flew with the German units based at Xanthi. They operated Albatros D.III, Halberstadt, etc. which would later mistakenly be added to the Bulgarian inventory and scrapped at Bozhourishte.

On the 30 September 1916 a single French Farman 40 entered Bulgarian aerospace with the intention to bomb the capital Sofia. The two seater belonged to the French Escadrille 384. Pilot was Sergeant Maurice Rauable and, Branco Naumovich, a Serbian, serving in the French army, was the gunner. At Bozhurishte Airfield a pair of Bulgarian Fokker E.III was scrambled. One of them was flown by the German flight instructor at the Bulgarian Aviation School Feldwebel Wagner; the Bulgarian Lieutenant Marko Parvanov flew his wingman. After a rapid climb the fighters gained altitude of 3000 meters and entered a battle station over the village of Vladaya to the south of the city (today a part of Sofia), awaiting the intruder. At the same time a flight of 3 armed Albatros C.III twin-seater trainers was dispatched over the exact center of the capital as a second line of defense.

Heavy anti-aircraft ground fire met the Farman when it tried to enter the airspace of Sofia. The bomber quickly released its load (which caused no casualties) and the pilot Sgt. Rauable tried to elude the Bulgarian fighters. Fld. Wagner fires the guns of his Fokker E.III at the target, but missed. Then Lieutenant Parvanov engages the French aircraft and damaged it. The bomber made an emergency landing with a dead engine and the aircrew was captured.

Another Allied aircraft, captured by Bulgarian troops was a British Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3. Bulgarian fighter pilots forced the pilot to land and it and the crew of two were taken into custody unharmed. Later the bomber would receive Bulgarian insignia and introduced to service for "special operations". The Armstrong Whitworth was used for night bombings of Allied positions, the darkness hiding away its Bulgarian insignia and the sound of its engine representing a friendly machine. 42 such sorties are flown with considerable success before intensive AAA fire damaged the captured bomber. The pilot Captain Ivan Uzunov (to become a legendary airman, a national hero and a key person in Bulgarian aviation activities) was able to land it in the almost complete darkness and set the machine on fire. Together with his navigator Lieutenant Popatanasov they made a three-day-long march behind enemy lines, until they made it to the advancing Bulgarian infantry units unharmed.

Two Nieuport XXVII fighters were also captured . Lieutenant Vladimir Balan, Bulgarian fighter pilot who until that time flew with a German JaSta on the Western Front (and was awarded with the German Iron Cross for his excellent service) flew one of the Nieuports. During one such a sortie he shot down the squadron leader of the British No. XVII Squadron RAF Captain O'Dwyer.

Bulgarian airmen also suffered losses, but mostly when their recon planes were involved in dogfight with dedicated fighters.

Bulgarian naval aviators also played important role in the air war. In 1912 Petty-Officers Lyapchev and Mikhailov were sent, along with other officers and seamen, to the German naval aviation forming facilities for training. Another group of naval personnel followed in the beginning of the First World War. Training was held at List, Nordenhai and Kiel. In November 1915 a seaplane station under German control was established near Varna, operating 4 Friedrichshafen FF-33 bombers and a Rumpler 6B-1 fighter. Later at the coast of the Varna Lake a second seaplane station was built (this one under Bulgarian control), operating the same inventory. Near Sozopol a forward fuel and ammunition replenishment base was established in support of patrol flights over the southern Bulgarian coastline. At the end of 1917 the German station was transferred to the Bulgarian Navy. At the time the armistice the Bulgarian fleet air arm comprises two seaplane stations, a forward replenishment base, three hangars, three workshops, ammunition warehouses and 10 seaplanes. After the cease-fire the machines were used for mine reconnaissance. At the end of 1919 they are transported by train to Bozhurishte Airfield to be scrapped along with the army aviation inventory.

The Bulgarian balloon observers also took part in the war. They were most active on the Dobrudzha Front, where aircraft activities were scarce (a German bomber squadron, flying missions against Bucharest and Constanţa in "Gota" bombers accounted for the most flights). Near the Bulgarian city of Yambol an airship hangar was constructed to house a Kaiserliche Luftflotte "Schütte-Lanz"-type airship "SL 10". According to documents of the time it was assigned to the Bulgarian Army, but was actually under German control. Shortly after arrival it was lost during a flight over the Black Sea. In due time L.59 replaced it. That airship flew a series of remarkable missions, such as an attempted resupply of the garrison in German East Africa and the bombing of Naples. During a combat flight against the British naval base in Malta a lightning set it on fire over the Mediterranean Sea and caused its complete destruction. All hands were lost.[1]

Destruction and survival under the Peace treaty (1919-1936)

On the 4 October 1918 the Bulgarian Tsar issued a Royal act of demobilization. As per the document the military aviation went in lines with peace-time structure. The Aeroplane group, based in Bozhurishte comprised the following:

  • Two aeroplane companies
  • An Aeroplane school
  • An aeroplane atelliér
  • An aeroplane depot

The Chaika Naval Seaplane station at Varna was under Naval command.

On November 27, 1919 the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine was signed. In accordance with the treaty The Kingdom of Bulgaria was banned from operating military aircraft under any form for the next 20 years. For that reason all Bulgarian airplanes, balloons, aviation equipment, weaponry and ammunition were to be destroyed under Allied control. Under the terms of the treaty any aircraft, procured for civilian purposes, were to be bought from the countries on the winning side. The combined engine power for any airplane (including multiengined ones) was not to exceed 180 hp. In addition, the Bulgarian airspace was to be controlled and used in the victorious countries' interests.

In accordance with the treaty during 1920 no less than 70 airplanes, 110 aviation engines, 3 air balloons, 76 aviation machine guns, a number of photographic cameras and as well as other aviation equipment were destroyed at the military airfield of Bozhurishte. The seaplanes of the Bulgarian Navy were delivered by train to the same airfield and scrapped soon after that.

Thanks to the devotion of the Air Troops personnel and the help of the population of the surrounding villages several aircraft were hidden, thus evading Allied inspection and following destruction. Seven DFW C.V, Albatros C.III and a single Fokker D.VII were among the survivors. In addition, at least ten aviation engines (Benz-IV and Mercedes-III) were also saved.

The Bulgarian government tried to get around the ban for military flight activity by establishing a Gendarmery Aeroplane Section in 1919. Since the Gendarmery was at that time a service under the Ministry of War, the creation of the unit was met by fierce opposition by the Allied commission. This almost resulted in the destruction of the whole Vrazhdebna Airfield, but the disbandment of the unit prevented this from happening.

An Aeroflight Section under the Ministry of Railways, Postal Service and Telegraph was created in 1920. Bulgarian aviation personnel assembled two airplanes from hidden spares and parts, salvaged from the destroyed military airplanes. The two aircraft, known as "the mixed planes", recorded about 1000 flight hours altogether. The sole remaining Bulgarian Fokker D.VII was disguised as a two seater, thus being classified as a trainer and returning to active service.

On 5 July 1923 Bulgaria ratified the International Civil Aviation Treaty. From that moment on its air vehicles would carry a registration in the form B-B??? (the latter three signs being a combination of capital letters). In 1923 the first group of cadets, called "student-flyers" entered the Flying school at Vrazhdebna AF.

The following year (1924) the first new airplanes were acquired. Those were machines of the Potez VIII, Caudron C.59, Henriot XD.14, Bristol 29 Tourer types; Avro 522 seaplanes were also procured. During the same year the Bulgarian airplane construction specialist Atanas Grigorov (who obtained his qualification at the "Albatroswerke - Berlin") assembled his superb seaplane, called "Grigorov-1". The aircraft made several test-flights, recording excellent characteristics, but was damaged beyond repair by a storm in the hangar where it was stationed. Also in 1924 the Aeroplane Section was expanded to an Aeroflight Directorate still under the Ministry of Railways, Postal Service and Telegraph.

1925 saw the Potez XVII, Bristol Lucifer and the Macchi 2000/18 flying boats boosting the country's aircraft inventory. The Bulgarian government invited a group of German aircraft engineers, headed by the constructor Herr Hermann Winter to help establish and aviation factory. Named The State's Aeroconstruction Atelliér (more popular as DAR-Bozhurishte) the factory was initially managed by the first Bulgarian pilot to achieve an aerial victory - Mr. Marko Parvanov. The first aircraft types, produced by the plant were the "Uzounov-1" (an indigenous variant of the wartime German DFW C.V) and the DAR-2 (indigenous variant of the German Albatross C.III of the same era). Both types well-known and loved by the personnel of the former Air Troops and with Bulgarian combat service experience. A new type - the DAR-1 was also in a phase of development.

During the course of 1926 the Airplane School was moved to the geographical center of the country. The town of Kazanlak was well suited, for it stayed away from the Allied Control Commission. The Czechoslovak "AERO-Praha" company has also built an aircraft factory near that city, but its models were not up to the requirements of the Bulgarian authorities. After unsuccessful switch to automotive production the plant was finally sold to the Italian Caproni company. The factory became popular as "Balgarski Kaproni" or "Bulgarian Caproni". The first examples of the very successful DAR-1 were produced and entered service with the Aeroflight Directorate during 1926.

The 1927 structure of the Directorate was the following:

  • A fighter yato[2], flying the DAR-1s
  • A bomber yato, flying the DAR-"Uzounov-1" and DAR-2
  • A recon yato, flying the Potez XVIIs
  • A seaplane yato, flying the Avro 522 floatplanes and the Macchi 2000/18 flying boats
  • An aeroplane school, flying the Caudron C-59, the Henriot XD.14 and the Šmolnik Š.18

In 1928 the Ministry of War started the ambitious 10-year program for development of the military aviation (still banned by the peace treaty). According to the plan the following structure had to be achieved:

  • 4 army fighter orlyaks (air groups), each made of two yatos (squadrons), or overall 8 yatos flying 96 fighter planes
  • 4 army recon orlyaks, each made of two yatos, or overall 8 yatos flying 96 recon planes
  • 18 divisionary recon yatos, basically air support aviation, each flying 12 planes or 216 planes altogether
  • Strike Aviation Brigade with:
    • Fighter Orlyak of 48 machines
    • Bomber Orlyak of 36 machines
    • Recon Orlyak of 2 machines
  • Maritime Orlyak
    • 2 seaplane fighter yatos, flying 24 fighters
    • 2 seaplane bomber yatos, flying 18 bombers

In 1931 Bulgaria signed the Warsaw Treaty, concerning international civil air activities and the country was assigned the new civil registration - LZ-??? (the latter three signs being a combination of capital letters). In 1933 the Bulgarian Council of Ministers approved the following wartime order of battle of the aviation:

  • a mixed orlyak of:
    • fighter yato
    • bomber yato
    • recon yato
    • liaison and photographic survey yato
  • maritime yato
  • training orlyak
  • Pilot School at Kazanlak airfield
  • a balloon company (which was never actually created, as the balloon was considered obsolete for military purposes at the time).

Bulgaria started acquiring German, Czechoslovak and Polish airplanes.

In 1934 the Aviation Regiment was renamed in His Majesty's Air Troops, comprising a headquarters, two army orlyaks (based at Bozhurishte and Plovdiv airfields), a training orlyak (in Plovdiv), a maritime yato (at NAS Chaika, Varna) and additional operational support units. Chief of the HMAT became Colonel Ivan Mikhailov with Lieutenant-Colonel Georgi Vasilev appointed as his Deputy. [1]

Years of Rebirth (1937-1939)

Aviation sign from 1937 to 1941, also The Bulgarian Medal of Bravery

The first combat aircraft entered service in the reestablished air force in 1937. These were 12 Arado Ar.65 fighters, 12 Heinkel He.51 fighters, 12 Dornier Do.11 bombers and 12 Heinkel He.45B recon planes. These machines are known as the Royal Gift, donated to the HMAT personally by King Boris III.

During the traditional military parade of St. George's Day (National Day of Bravery and of the patron-saint of the Bulgarian Armed Forces) in 1937 military aircraft officially debuted as a part of the armed forces after nearly two-decade hiatus. A month later Boris III himself presented the Bulgarian air regiments with their new combat flags at an official ceremony at Vrazhdebna Airfield. In 1938 14 newly built Polish PZL.24B fighters were acquired along with 12 PZL.43B light bombers.

When the Third Reich occupied Czechoslovakia, absorbing her Czech Lands as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, her air force ceased to exist. Bulgaria used the opportunity to acquire large numbers of relatively modern aircraft at a symbolic price. 78 Avia B.534 biplane fighters, 32 Avia B.71 bombers (a license version of the Soviet SB-2 light bomber) and 60 Letov Š.328 recon were part of the reinforcements. In less than 3 years the Air Force inventory had grown up to 478 pieces of which 135 of Bulgarian construction.

World War II (1939-1945)

Aviation sign from 1941 to 1944

At the beginning of World War II, the combat air fleet comprised 374 machines in various roles. In addition orders were placed for 10 Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4 fighters, 11 Dornier Do 17M/P bombers, 6 Messerschmitt Bf 108 light liaison and utility aircraft, 24 Arado Ar 96B-2 and 14 Bücker-Bestmann Bü 131 trainers.

The Air Force order of battle comprised the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Army Aviation Orlyaks (Army Air Groups or air regiments), each attached to the correspondingly-numbered field army. Each orlyak had a fighter, a line bomber and two reconnaissance yatos (Squadrons). There was also an Independent Aviation corps, which combined the 5th Bomber and 6th Fighter Regiments. The training units consisted of the "Junker" School Orlyak at Vrazhdebna airfield, the 2nd Training Orlyak at Telish airfield (called the Blind Flying Training School) and the 3rd Training Orlyak at Stara Zagora airfield. In 1940, the Bulgarian aviation industry provided the HMAT with 42 DAR-9, 45 KB-5 aircraft and the serial production of the KB-6 - Bulgaria's first twin-engined aircraft was scheduled to commence. At year's end the Air Force had 595 aircraft (258 combat) and 10 287 personnel.

The Kingdom of Bulgaria entered the World War II on the 1 March 1941 as a German ally. Under the signed treaty Bulgaria allowed the use of its territory as a staging point for the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece and some minor logistical support.

Despite the impressive inventory, Bulgaria's fighter force at the time consisted of 91 machines, with just 10 of them being of the modern Bf 109E-4 type. Further 11 were of the outdated PZL.24B; the remaining numbers were of the Avia B.534 biplane types. The ground-based air defenses were made up of only 8 88 mm and 6 20 mm AA guns. To help its new ally the 12th Army of the Wehrmacht offered support with its air and air defense assets and 8 Freya-type radars dispersed throughout the country. A dispersed observation and reporting system was gradually developed.

The first air strike against Bulgarian targets was carried out by 4 Yugoslav Dornier Do.17Kb-1 on the 6th of April 1941 on the city of Kyustendil and its railway station killing 47 and injuring 95, mostly civilians. The air strikes intensifying following days; British Royal Air Force units based in Greece participated in the attacks as well. At the end of April 2 and 5th Bulgarian Armies occupied Greek and Yugoslav territories according to an agreement with the Third Reich. As a part of the joint armed forces' effort on June 26, 1941 6 Avia B.71 and 9 Dornier Do 17M bombers were transferred to the Badem Chiflik airfield near Kavala (in modern Greece). They were tasked with ASW patrols and air support for Italian shipping over the adjacent area of the Aegean Sea. In addition 9 Letov Š.328 based in Badem Chiflik provided the ground troops with air reconnaissance. At the Black Sea shores the "Galata" Fighter Orlyak was established at NAS Chaika, Varna, with the 10 Bf 109E-4s and 6 Avia B.534. The S.328s were also used for ASW patrols over the Black Sea, flying out of Sarafovo and Balchik airfields. At the end of 1941 the inventory of His Majesty's Air Troops consisted of 609 aircraft of 40 different types.

Reestablishment under the Socialist government

Aviation sign from 1945 to 1948

Immediately after the end of World War 2, Bulgaria became a Soviet satellite and a strong communist regime was put in place during 1946-47. In accordance with a March 16th 1945 friendship agreement Bulgaria received a military aid package from the Soviet Union. This long-standing agreement continued throughout the cold war and was further expanded with the formation of the Warsaw Pact Treaty organisation on 14th of May 1956. This formalisation of the existing military co-operation between the soviet union and eastern European client states, marked a new beginning of a new era for the Bulgarski Voennovazdushni Sili- BVVS (Bulgarian Air Force) which received a large range of jet fighters and bombers over the next three decades.

The Era of Major Achievements (The Sixties and Seventies)

Aviation sign from 1949 to 1992

The first succession of the MiG 21 'fishbed' variants delivered from late 1963. There were three types delieved the MIG 21MF for reconnaissance duties, the two seat MiG 21US/UM trainer and the MiG 21bis intercepter. In 1965 the L29 Delfin entered service as a basic, advanced and weapons training roles. In December 1976 the MiG-23BN entered service. The Flogger-H as it was known was a supersonic swing wing aircraft which in Bulgarian service suffered a high number of accident but many Bugarian pilots consider the aircraft extremely potent. In June 1979 the Mil-24 Entered service through a significant re-equiment program and a boost to rotary power to the BVVS

A Potent Air Power (The Eighties)

In November 1982 three MIG 25RBT bomber/reconnaissance and a MIG 25RU trainer aircraft entered service. The BVVS found it difficult to keep the aircraft in Bulgarian airspace at Mach 2.8 coupled with the high operating costs and the loss of one aircraft. They were returned to Russia in 1992 in exchange for more MIG 23's. The Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot and the Su-22 Fitter entered service in 1988. In the strike/reconnaissance role. 40 Su-25's were delivered and 18 Su-22 were delivered.

The downfall (1989-2004)

After the end of the Cold war Bulgaria's air force is limited to 226 aircraft. A large number of early MiG-21 variants were withdrawn from service and were cut for scrap. And the armament from the trainers for the MiG-21 and MiG-23 was removed. In 1998 four air bases were closed down: Gabrovnitsa, Balchick, Uzundzhovo and Shtraklevo. Then in 2000 the Stara Zagora (operating Mi-24s) air force base was closed. Then in 2001 three more base were closed down: Dobrich, Ravnets and Cheshnegirovo. In 2003 Dobroslavtsi was closed down and the MiG-23s were withdrawn from service. The motive being that it is more expensive to run than the MiG-21. In February 2004 the Su-22s, which were stationed first in Dobrich then in Bezmer, were withdrawn. [2]

Modern times

Bulgarian Air force
Bulgarian MiG-29 fighter aircraft.
A Bulgarian MiG-21 taxis at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria during a bi-laterial exercise between the U.S. and Bulgarian air forces.
Bulgarian Mi-17.
Bulgarian AS532AL Cougar.

In the past decade Bulgaria has been trying actively to restructure its army as a whole and a lot of attention has been placed on keeping the aging Russian aircraft operational. Currently the attack and defence branches of the Bulgarian air force are composed mainly of MIG-21s, MIG-29s and Su-25s. There are also several Su-22s, used primary for surveillance purposes. About 16 MiG-29 fighters are being modernized in order to meet NATO standards and until now everything is going according to plan (7 jets will be ready until September 2007). In about 2 years time the government intends to purchase 16 modern jet fighters but due to the lack of funding the procedure of choosing the best alternative could prolong itself. The main competitors are expected to be Eurofighter, Dassault Rafale, JAS 39 Gripen, F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet. In 2006 the Bulgarian government signed a contract with Alenia Aeronautica for the delivery of five C-27J Spartan transport aircraft in order to replace the old soviet made An-24 and An-26. The first Spartan is expected to arrive in year 2007 and the remaining four until 2011.

Modern EU-made transport helicopters were purchased in 2005 and until now 7 have arrived. In 2-3 years the Bulgarian Air Force will have 12 Eurocopter Cougar helicopters (8 transport and 4 CSAR), and the Navy - 6 Eurocopter Panther. Until then the Bulgarian Air force would have to rely on the Mi-24s and Mi-17s. Recently, the Ministry of Defense terminated the contract with Elbit Systems for modernizing 12 Mi-24 and 6 Mi-17 helicopters and will be looking for a new executor of the modernization.

Branches of the air force include: fighter aviation, assault aviation, intelligence aviation and transportation aviation, aid defense troops, radio-technical troops, communications troops, radio-technical support troops, logistics and medical troops.

Bulgaria is going to reinforce the international forces in Afghanistan by sending two Mil Mi-17 transport helicopters to the country. As a result, a special fund was created that will provide money for the renovation of older Soviet-made equipment, which could then be used in Afghanistan.[3]

Air bases

Active Air Bases

  • 12 Training Air Base - Kamenets
  • 22nd Attack Air Base - Bezmer Air Base
    • 1/22 Attack Squadron - operateing Su-25K, UBK
    • 2/22 Attack Squadron - operateing Su-25K, UBK
  • 24th Helicopter Air Base - Krumovo Air Base

Reserve (closed) air bases

Aircraft Inventory

With the exception of the Navy's small helicopter fleet, the Air Forces are responsible for all military aircraft in Bulgaria. The Air Force's inventory numbers around 137 aircraft, including 55-56 combat jets, but only the MiG-29 planes, about a dozen of Su-25 and a few of the MiG-21-s are flight worthy, and L-39s are in use only for training. The condition of some Su-25s is bad, but the Air Force has the know-how to overhaul and repair the planes. There are around 23-30 helicopters operated by the Bulgarian Air Force at the moment, including Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter. Aircraft of Western origin have only begun to enter the fleet, numbering 13 of the total in service.

Bulgaria signed a deal with Eurocopter worth 358 million euros for purchase of 12 AS 532 Eurocopter Cougar (4 of which in CSAR modification) and 6 Eurocopter Panther AS 565. The Panthers will replace the Mil Mi-14 in ASW role and AS 532 are to replace the Mil Mi-17 in transport role.

The country also agreed to the purchase of 5 C27J transports with Alenia of Italy, a deal worth some 210 million euros.

As a result of new helicopter and transport aircraft purchase it was decided to delay the purchase of new fighters for time being. Extra funds may be secured in 2009-2011 for the purchase of 12-24 fighters.

The BAF plans to retire most of its Soviet-era aircraft, keeping only the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fleet which was modernized only recently, as well as its Mi-24 gunships and Su-25s.

Weapons inventory

Ranks

BG-Air Force-OF9.gif BG-Air Force-OF8.gif BG-Air Force-OF7.gif BG-Air Force-OF6.gif BG-Air Force-OF5.gif BG-Air Force-OF4.gif BG-Air Force-OF3.gif BG-Air Force-OF2.gif BG-Air Force-OF1a.gif BG-Air Force-OF1b.gif BG-Air Force-OF1c.gif
Звание Генерал Генерал-лейтенант Генерал-майор Бригаден генерал Полковник Подполковник Майор Капитан Старши лейтенант Лейтенант Младши лейтенант
Title General General-lieutenant General-major Brigadier General Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major Captain Senior Lieutenant Lieutenant Junior Lieutenant
Vvs ranks air12.jpg BG-Air Force-OR9.gif BG-Air Force-OR7.gif BG-Air Force-OR6.gif BG-Air Force-OR5.gif BG-Air Force-OR4.gif BG-Air Force-OR1.gif
Звание Офицерски кандидат Старшина Старши сержант Сержант Младши сержант Ефрейтор Редник
Title Officer candidate Senior Staff Sergeant Sergeant Junior Sergeant Corporal Private

Notable facilities

  • 1st Fighter Air Base - Dobroslavtsi Air Base
  • 2nd Fighter Air Base - Gabrovnitsa Air Base
  • 3rd Fighter Air Base - Graf Ignatievo Air Base
  • 4th Fighter Air Base - Uzundzhovo Air Base(later 21st Fighter-Bomber Air Base)
  • 5th Fighter Air Base - Ravnets Air Base
  • 6th Fighter Air Base - Balchik Air Base
  • 11th Training Air Base - Shtraklevo Air Base
  • 12th Training Air Base - Kamenets (now transferred to Dolna Mitropoliya)
  • 16th Transport Air Base - Vrazhdebna Air Base (military area of Sofia Airport)
  • 21st Fighter-Bomber Air Base - Uzundzhovo Air Base(formerly 4th FAB)
  • 22nd Ground Attack Air Base - Bezmer Air Base (becoming a joint Bulgarian-American training facility)
  • 23rd Attack Helicopters Air Base - Stara Zagora Air Base
  • 24th Helicopter Air Base - Krumovo Air Base (military area of Plovdiv Airport)
  • 25th Fighter-Bomber Air Base - Cheshnegirovo Air Base/ Sadovo
  • 26th Reconnaissance Air Base - Dobrich Air Base
  • Bozhurishte Airfield
  • The city of Plovdiv used to house the headquarters of the Tactical Aviation Command and is still a place of significance as it houses a number of logistical and operational support units of the Bulgarian Air Force.
  • The city of Bourgas is the place around which the 3rd Missile Air Defence Brigade of the Bulgarian Air Force is deployed.
  • 63rd Independent Maritime Helicopter Air Base at Varna - Chaika, which houses the Independent Maritime Helicopter Squadron.

References

  1. ^ a b Rumen Kirilov, Ivan Borislavov, "The Bulgarian Aviation In the Chains of the Neuilly Peace Treaty", in: "Klub Krile Magazine", special, Vol. 11, 1999, "Air Group 2000" Publishing, Sofia, Bulgaria
  2. ^ The Bulgarian word "yato" means a "flock of birds" and was the Bulgarian equivalent of an air force squadron at the time
  3. ^ Bulgaria to deploy helicopters in Afghanistan
  • World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 327 Sheet 04

See also

External links


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