Bulgaria is joining many other nations in upgrading
sixteen of their MiG-29s, to improve
capabilities, particularly to meet NATO standards. This will cost about three
million dollars per aircraft, and extend their service life from the current 25
years, to 40 years.
The MiG-29 entered Russian service in
1983. Some 1,600 MiG-29s have been produced so far, with about 900 of them
exported. Bulgaria received its first MiG-29s in 1989, with deliveries
continuing into the 1990s. The 22 ton aircraft is roughly comparable to the
F-16, but it depends a lot on which version of either aircraft you are talking
Russia is making a lot of money
upgrading MiG-29s, and handled the Bulgarian work. Upgrades not only add new
electronics, but also make the airframe more robust. The MiG-29 was originally
rated at 2,500 total flight hours. At that time (early 80s), Russia expected
MiG-29s to fly about a hundred or so hours a year. NATO standards require them
to be flown at over twice that rate, and now Russia is offering to spiff up the
airframe so that the aircraft can fly up to 4,000 hours, with more life
extensions upgrades promised. This won't be easy, as the MiG-29 has a history
of unreliability and premature breakdowns (both mechanical and electronic).
Compared to Western aircraft, like the F-16, the MiG-29 is available for action
about two thirds as much. While extending the life of the MiG-29 into the 2030s
is theoretically possible, actually doing so will be real breakthrough in
Russian aircraft capabilities. The MiG-29 upgrade program is taking several
years to complete.