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U.S. State Department officials have approved the potential $1.6 billion sale of eight Lockheed Martin F-16 C/D Block 70 fighter aircraft and related equipment to Bulgaria, it announced Monday.

According to U.S. officials, the government of Bulgaria’s requested purchase of the 4th generation NATO fighter included four F-16 C Block 70 aircraft, four F-16 D Block 70 aircraft and 11 F100-GE-129D engines. 

The aircraft would be manufactured in Lockheed Martin’s new facility in Greenville, South Carolina, which is also producing F-16 Block 70 aircraft for Bahrain and Slovakia, the company said.

Selling the fighters to Bulgaria would support U.S. objectives and improve the security of a NATO ally “that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” while not altering the basic military balance in the region, the State Department said in a statement.

“The proposed sale will improve Bulgaria’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling the Bulgarian Air Force to deploy modern fighter aircraft routinely in the Black Sea region,” the State Department said. 

“The acquisition of these aircraft would provide Bulgaria a NATO interoperable platform and allow the Bulgarian Air Force to operate more frequently alongside other regional F-16 operators, promoting common doctrine and operations. Bulgaria has shown a commitment to modernizing its armed forces and will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft and services into its armed forces.” 

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The announcement comes as Ukrainian officials continue to press regional neighbors for MiG-29 fighters to use in its defense against the ongoing Russian invasion.

The possible sale of fighters to Bulgaria—a country that possesses MiG-29s—is not directly related to a plan to backfill swapped out aircraft, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Monday.

“I would not draw any conclusions from that announcement to some sort of backfill requirement. That would be a misreading of what’s happening,” Kirby said. “I’m not going to speak for another nation and what another nation is willing or able to do in terms of supporting Ukraine.”

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Bulgaria has sought the F-16s as it focuses on modernizing its air force and improving NATO interoperability, Reuters reported.

The F-16 Block 70 aircraft feature technology developed for the 5th Generation F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor fighters, while providing a low-risk and cost effective solution for Bulgaria and NATO defense needs, Lockheed Martin said.

“With more than 700 F-16s flying in Europe today, Bulgaria will benefit from having a truly interoperable single engine fighter enabling it to fully participate in coalition activities such as peacekeeping operations,” the company said.

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