WARSAW, Poland — Bulgaria’s Ministry of Defense has requested fighter jet lease offers from four countries, as the nation scrambles to secure its air-combat capabilities until the first eight American F-16s become operational in 2027 or 2028.

The development comes shortly after the country’s caretaker government decided to ask the parliament to approve a second F-16 order for a further eight jets, valued at about $1.3 billion.

To fill the ensuing air power gap, the ministry has requested offers from the United States, France, Sweden and Israel. To date, Sofia has received the replies of France and Sweden, and it is awaiting the answers of the remaining two countries, Defense Minister Dimitar Stoyanov said in a statement.

Bulgaria’s Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters are to be withdrawn from service in 2023, according to Stoyanov. Two years later, Bulgaria aims to receive its first eight F-16s, but it will take the country’s Air Force between two and three years before it can fully benefit from the new aircraft’s capacities. Under the plan, a further eight F-16 are to be delivered to Bulgaria in 2027 if the proposed deal is signed, he said.

The minister said that Bulgaria plans to lease the aircraft from one of the four contacted countries.

“At this moment, our intention is not to buy, but only to use these aircraft for a certain period of time,” Stoyanov said.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the Lockheed Martin-made jets, the ministry has launched a project to overhaul the Graf Ignatievo air base where the aircraft will be housed.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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