Late last week, Romanian defense minister Mircea Dusa signed the contract for a €600 million ($817 million) deal to acquire 12 Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM fighters from Portugal. An initial installment was paid at the same time. The acquisition of F-16s will finally allow Romania to operate NATO-compatible aircraft, and also brings to an end a long-running saga to provide a replacement for the dwindling LanceR fleet of upgraded MiG-21s.
Included in the deal are nine current Portuguese air force aircraft and three that Portugal is acquiring through the U.S. excess defense article program. This trio will be put through a mid-life update (MLU) program at Portugal’s OGMA maintenance, repair and overhaul company to bring them up to F-16AM/BM standards before delivery to Romania. The deal, which covers nine F-16AM single-seaters and three F-16BM two-seaters, also includes the training of an initial batch of nine pilots and 69 technicians, to be undertaken partly in the U.S.
The first aircraft is scheduled for delivery in 2015/16, with all 12 to be handed over by 2017 to equip a single squadron. Romania has stated its intention to buy another batch of F-16s from Portugal to equip a second unit.
Romania began its search for a new fighter in the early 2000s, with the aim of replacing the LanceRs in 2010/11 with 48 new aircraft. The F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen were seen as the main contenders, but a lack of funds continually delayed any decision. In 2005 Romania announced that it was to buy used F-16s from the Israeli air force, with overhaul and support provided by Elbit. Belgian F-16s were considered in 2006, and in 2008 Romania submitted a request for 24 new Block 50/52 aircraft and discussed an alternative plan to buy second-hand U.S. aircraft. In March this year Romania approved the purchase of 24 ex-U.S. Air Force F-16C/D Block 25s, but subsequently the country struck a final, cheaper deal with Portugal.
In Romanian service the F-16s will replace the 30 to 40 remaining LanceRs. This program involved a major upgrade to the Mikoyan MiG-21M, MF and UM, and was undertaken by Aerostar in conjunction with Elbit. Avionics were completely overhauled and Python 3 missile capability was added. From 1996 the Romanian air force received 71 LanceR A ground attackers with Elta EL/M-2001B radar, 14 LanceR B two-seat conversion trainers and 26 LanceR C air defense fighters with EL/M-2032 radar.
Portugal acquired a total of 45 F-16A/B Block 15s. The first batch, delivered from 1994, comprised 20 Block 15OCU aircraft acquired new under the Peace Atlantis I program to equip Esquadra 201 at Monte Real. In 1999 Portugal received 25 ex-U.S. Air Force Block 15s to establish a second squadron, Esquadra 301. Only 20 of these aircraft were placed in service, and soon after delivery they were put through the MLU program with new avionics, F100-PW-220E engines and Falcon UP structural upgrade. The remaining five ex-U.S. aircraft were used as a source of spares.