In late March the Romanian defense council approved the acquisition of used Lockheed Martin F-16s as a stop-gap measure to fill the air force’s new fighter requirements. The aircraft concerned are 24 U.S. Air Force F-16C/D Block 25 aircraft that are currently stored in the service’s aircraft “boneyard” at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Ariz. The U.S. Air Force will provide the 25-year-old aircraft for free, but Romania will pay approximately $1.3 billion for them to be overhauled and upgraded, in addition to personnel training. At the same time, Romania announced plans to follow up at a later date with a purchase of 24 new-build F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft, and ultimately seeks to acquire 24 F-35 Lightning IIs to replace the older F-16s.
Romania launched a program to replace its Lancer fighters in 2007. The Lancer is a MiG-21 that was upgraded in partnership with Elbit Systems. Although the avionics of the Lancer are adequate, the airframes are aging, and are scheduled for retirement in 2013. A number of proposals were made to Romania for its 48-aircraft requirement, including former Israeli F-16As and several new-build options from European manufacturers. The U.S. F-16 option was notified to Congress in May 2008.
Romania’s decision has yet to be ratified by parliament, and has raised some eyebrows elsewhere in Europe, with both Saab and Eurofighter raising questions about the costs associated with the deal. The lack of any offsets has been highlighted, as well as the high operational costs that could make the F-16 deal more expensive in the long term.
The weapons the F-16s will employ also remains in question, and there has been no clue in either recent announcements or the May 2008 DSCA notification. Romania’s Lancers use primarily the French Magic II and Israeli Python 3 missiles for air defense duties, as well as a range of Israeli and Russian air-to-ground ordnance. Both air-to-air missiles have previously been integrated on the F-16.