Two United States military aircraft will participate in securing Bulgaria’s air space from September 9 to 16, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said after a Cabinet meeting on August 24.
This was a peacetime mission, at the initiative of Nato, Nenchev told reporters.
Bulgaria will not pay for the mission, which will be carried out jointly with the Bulgarian Air Force, he said.
In 2016, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved legislation enabling the participation of foreign air forces in securing the country’s air space.
Opposed by the socialist opposition, the legislation also is known to have been the subject of a dispute between Nenchev and the then-chief of the Bulgarian Air Force, Roumen Radev, who objected to the concept providing for Bulgaria to pay countries providing military aircraft for air policing.
Radev now is the candidate for the Bulgarian Socialist Party in the country’s November 6 presidential elections.
Nenchev said that Bulgaria could and would protect its air space and the required MiG-29 fighters to do so.
He said that in November, the country would receive two further engines for these fighters, bringing the total to six, and there were more serviceable MiG-29s.
Bulgaria’s Air Force’s fighters are ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s. The country is taking the latest in a series of steps in a protracted process towards acquiring modern fighters that meet the standards of the Nato alliance of which Bulgaria has been a member for 12 years.
Nenchev said that the Cabinet had allocated 69 million leva (about 35.3 million euro) for additional 10 engines, meaning five additional MiG-29s, this year.
He did not dismiss the possibility of an agreement with Poland on mutual security of air space, but this would be subject to further discussions, he said.
He said that the departure of Radev would not affect negotiations on the purchase of new fighter jets.
Nenchev expressed hope that this year, there would be a contract for new aircraft, so that they could reach the country at the end of 2018.
The Cabinet is proposing that General Tsanko Stoikov, Bulgaria’s military attaché in the United States, become the new Air Force commander, Nenchev said.