Bulgarian Air Force / Bulgarski Voenno Vzdushni Sili
Paul van der Linden
Once a well-equipped air force within the Warsaw Pact the Balgarski Voennovazdushni Sily (BVVS) suffered badly from major cutbacks over the past decade.
After WW2 a Communist regime was installed in the late forties resulting in the supply by Russia of massive numbers of Yak-9, Il-2 and Il-10 fighters and Po-2, Yak-11 and Yak-12 trainers among other types. During the course of the 1950's these were replaced by jet fighters such as Yak-23 fighters and Yak-17UTi trainers in 1951 followed in the following years by MiG-15's, MiG-17's, MiG-19's and Il-28 bombers. The early sixties saw the introduction of the MiG-21F-13 in Bulgarian service. In the following two decades these were followed by a wide variety of Fishbed variants which replaced the majority of the older MiG types in service. Transport aircraft entering service in the 1960's were a number of Il-14 and Li-2's along with numbers of Mi-1 and Mi-4 helicopters as well as various liaison aircraft.
Modernisation of the BVVS continued during the 70's with the delivery of Mi-2 and Mi-8 helicopters as replacements for the aging Mi-1 and Mi-4's. Another type which entered service in 1978 was the MiG-23BN Flogger-H which equipped a regiment at Sadovo replacing a similar number of MiG-17 Fresco's. Additional Floggers followed in 1982/83 when twelve MiG-23MF interceptors were delivered. These were later augmented by more modern Flogger types. Another interesting type which was operated by the BVVS albeit in a very modest number was the MiG-25 Foxbat. Three reconnaissance MiG-25RBT and one MiG-25RU were delivered in 1982. Also entering service in the 80's was the Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter, the Czech built Aero L-39ZA Albatros and the Mi-24 Hind. The last MiG-17's were finally retired in 1988 when the 22IBAP which was still operating the type was reequipped with the Su-25 Frogfoot.
The first half of the 90's saw the first signs of inevitable cutbacks. The first victims of these cutbacks were the MiG-25 Foxbats. In 1991 operations with the MiG-25's ceased and the aircraft were exchanged with Russia with five MiG-23MLD Flogger-G's in 1992. These Flogger-G's entered service with the 18.IAP at Dobroslavtzi. 1991 also saw the demise of the 21.IAP at Uzundzhovo with the base remaining open as the home base of the 3 Eskadrilla of 19.IAP at Graf Ignatievo (3/19.IAE). This unit was equipped with half of 36 MiG-21bis and 6 MiG-21UM's which were received free of charge from the Soviet Union in 1990 along with the 2/15.IAE at Balchik. In the mid 90's the base was again redesignated as the 21.IBAB. In 1992 the 1/2.UBAE at Kamenetz retired its MiG-21PFM's and MiG-21US/UM's. This was the last unit which operated the MiG-21PFM after 2/15.IAE had replaced its complement of MiG-21PFM's back in 1990. In May 1993 the 16.TrAP relocated from Dobroslavtsi to Sofia-Vrazhdebna.
A major reorganisation took place in 1996 when the Soviet style regiment structure was abandoned and an air base number system was adopted. This coincided with the renumbering of the existing regiments with the fighter bases receiving single numbers and the ground attack and reconnaissance units two-digit numbers. 1996 saw the disbanding of the 1st and 2nd DPVO as well as the 10.SAC and the establishment of the Korpus Protivovazdushna Otbrana (Air Defence Corps) incorporating all fighter and air defence units and the Korpus Takticheska Aviatsia (Tactical Aviation Corps) incorporating the fighter, attack and reconnaissance assets.
As a result of the Conventional Forces Europe (CFE) treaty the Bulgarian Air Force was obligated to scrap or dispose off 152 fighter planes. This was completed in November 1995 when the scrapping of a large number of MiG-17's was completed at Bezmer and MiG-21's of various types at Graf Ignatievo. In addition also some MiG-23MF's and BN's were involved. Other aircraft were disposed of for preservation and instruction purposes. An offer by Russia for the purchase of 14 MiG-29SM, 10-12 Su-25TK and a batch of 12 second hand Mi-24D's was rejected in the mid 90's.
In 1997 it was announced that another four bases were to be closed being 2.IAB Gabrovnitza, 6.IAB Baltchik, 11.UAB Shtraklevo and 21.IBAB Uzundzhovo. All operations had ceased by the end of 1998 and the bases were downgraded to reserve status. By that time the MiG-23's of the 2.IAB had transferred to Dobroslavtsi where they joined the 1.IAB and the L-29's from 11.UAB were transferred to the 12.UAB at Kamenetz. The 6IAB and the 21IBAB were also disbanded in 1998 with their complement of MiG-21bis and MiG-21UM retired or transferred to other bases.
Another dramatic round of base closures was announced in 1999. This time it was decided that only five air bases would remain active being one for ground attack and reconnaissance, an air defence base, a training base, helicopter base and a transport base. Due for closure were Dobroslavstsi (1.IAB), Ravnetz (5.IAB), Stara Zagora (23.VAB), Cheshnegirovo (25.IBAP) and Dobritch (26.RAB). All the MiG-23's were to be retired as were the MiG-21MF, MFR and L-29 in the training role with 12 UAB. The L-29 remains in service with the various frontline squadrons to provide for base flight duties and continuation training. The MiG-29's from Ravnetz moved to Graf Ignatievo and the Mi-24's relocated from Stara Zagora to Krumovo while the Su-22's moved from Dobritch to Bezmer. These moves resulted in the following current Order of Battle. The intended closure of Dobroslavtzi was delayed in early 2002 with a number of MiG-23's receiving a service life extension program in order to keep them operational for another few years to come.
Plans for the acquisition of second hand F-16's were abandoned in early 2002 in favour of an overhaul and upgrade of the remaining MiG-29's. The remaining MiG-21's are expected to remain in service for some years to come, as are the Su-25 Frogfoots. Bulgaria, an active Partnership for Peace member, eventually joined NATO in April 2004. In addition to the overhaul and upgrade of the MiG-29s the BVVS has a number of AS532 Cougars and C-27J Spartans on order. In addition some AS565s are on order for the navy to replace the Mi-14s.