Romania: 36 additional F-16s to be procured

Romania Defense Minister Mihai Fifor held a press conference on February 20 in which he laid out some of the major capitalization projects unfolding in the National Defense Ministry. Among the projects, he mentioned the procurement of possibly up to 36 Lockheed-Martin F-16s.

Romania 36 additional F 16s to be procured

A Romanian Air Force F-16A (Picture source: Romanian Air Force)

With Romania's quest to reconstitute a submarine capability via a three-vessel order already presented earlier, the Defense Minister took the opportunity this time to outline the largest goal looming for the Romanian Air Force, which concerns expanding the combat aircraft fleet.

Currently Romania's Air Force operates a mix of 26 aging, Soviet-legacy MiG-21 Lancers and 12 second-hand F-16s purchased for US$181 million under a government-to-government agreement with Portugal in October 2013. The first six aircraft were delivered in late September 2016, followed by three more in December. The last three aircraft were delivered in October 2017. 

These F-16s were put through a revitalization and upgrade program with Lockheed Martin prior to their transfer to Romania. The US company had also been awarded a $24 million contract to provide Romanian Air Force with F-16A/B Block 15 training system, logistics support and software development, the US Department of Defense had announced on April 24, 2017. The contract would be performed at Orlando, Florida, and is expected to be complete by April 20, 2021. This contract is 100 percent foreign military sales to Romania.

The MiG-21s, meanwhile, are in the final year or two of their service lives and Romania is eager to phase them out of service. But for now, their retirement would leave the Air Force woefully short of capacity. Therefore, a supplement to the F-16 stock is required. Now defense planners are ready to begin moving forward on another acquisition of F-16s to build upon the initial batch of 12.

The first step involves a small procurement of four additional F-16s. If this goes as planned, Romania will then move on to a much larger purchase of 36 more units. This would ultimately give the Air Force a combat backbone of 56 of the fourth-generation swing fighters. The 36-unit order reflects a growing ambition on the part of the Defense Ministry to build up fighter capacity, as just a year ago the stated medium-term goal of the ministry was for a 20-unit order.

The current fleet of F-16A/Bs is operated from Fetesti AFB by the 53rd Fighter Squadron.