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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MiG Beats Rivals for Bulgaria Contract

MTMiG beat bidders from Europe, Israel and Belarus to modernize Bulgaria's MiG-29s.
Russian Aircraft Corp. MiG beat out four rivals to win a contract to modernize Bulgaria's fleet of MiG-29 fighters, the Bulgarian Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The deal to upgrade the jets, 16 fighters and four trainers, could be worth as much as $50 million.

Bulgarian officials said by telephone from Sofia that the decision to award the international tender was made Monday after two months of deliberations. The other bidders were European aerospace giant EADS, Israel Aircraft Industries, Elbit Systems, also from Israel, and Belarus' Baranovichi plant.

MiG is contracted to upgrade between four and six jets this year at a price of 20 million to 32 million levs ($8.9 million to $14.3 million), said a Bulgarian Defense Ministry spokesperson.

The spokesperson said roughly half of the work will be performed at Bulgaria's Georgi Benkovski aviation repair plant.

The spokesperson said MiG itself would be responsible for getting the jets flight-ready, since only three are operational, but that it would subcontract out the work to actually modernize the fleet to NATO standards, including installing new navigation systems. She said MiG would choose the firm at a later date, but she did not elaborate.

That company, according to Maxim Pyadushkin, editor of Export Vooruzheny defense magazine, will likely be MiG Aircraft Product Support, or MAPS, a joint venture between German's DASA, MiG and Russian state arms export agency Rosoboronexport.

"MiG should be congratulated," he said, adding that the company had been negotiating with Sofia since 1997, when the country first expressed interest in purchasing new Russian jets. The former Soviet-bloc country, now an aspiring NATO member, then turned its attention to the American F-16 before settling for a modernization deal with MiG.

"Bulgaria must have realized that it would still be cheaper to modernize the MiGs it already has," Pyadushkin said.

Winning the tender is the latest in a string of recent successes for the once-struggling former Soviet giant. After several meager years, the company last year secured nearly $1 billion in contracts, 10 more than in 2000.

MiG was not available for comment Tuesday.

An official in the company said Monday that MiG was also close to a deal to modernize Slovakia's fleet of MiG-29s.

A Slovak Defense Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that the country was looking to upgrade its fleet of 24 jets with the help of MiG in exchange for writing off some of Russia's $1 billion debt to the country.

MiG is currently upgrading 14 of Hungary's fleet of 27 MiGs under a deal signed last year worth an estimated $40 million. And earlier this year, Germany agreed to transfer 23 MiG-29s to Poland, giving Warsaw a total of 45 that MiG is hoping to upgrade.

Pyadushkin said a deal with Slovakia would most probably be the last one for MiG in Eastern Europe.

"MiG has managed to fulfill what it could on this market -- upgrades," Pyadushkin said.

Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said MiG should now shoot for a contact to upgrade India's fleet of more than 60 MiG-29s.