Bulgaria’s Ministry of Defence said on November 10 that it had signed a contract for the supply of 10 engines for the Air Force’s Russian-made MiG-29 jet fighters – and, in an apparent sideswipe at former Air Force commander and Bulgarian Socialist Party-backed presidential candidate Roumen Radev, rejected “propaganda claims that the air force will be grounded”.
The value of the contract was not stated in the Defence Ministry’s press statement, but is reported to be about 43 million leva (about 22 million euro).
The ministry said that the contract, signed on November 9, provided for four new and six overhauled engines. The contractor will deliver the first two overhauled engines by April 30 2017.
The statement said that the deal was the result of the “consistent policy of Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev regarding the Air Force”.
Since Radev left the Air Force to become the BSP-backed presidential candidate, winning the most votes at the first round on November 6 and facing GERB rival Tsetska Tsacheva at a November 13 second round, there have been bitter exchanges between him and his former boss, Nenchev.
Several months before Radev entered politics, he quit as Air Force chief, saying that resources were too scarce to enable him to do his job. The same day Radev submitted his resignation, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov talked him out of it.
Borissov now has staked the future of his government on the outcome of the November 2016 presidential election, saying he will resign if Tsacheva loses to Radev.
The Defence Ministry statement, not mentioning Radev by name, dismissed suggestions that the Bulgarian Air Force could be ground for lack of serviceable aircraft as “propaganda”. The Defence Ministry had not allowed this to happen, the statement said.
“The proof is the successful completion of repair of engines in Poland this year. Economically lucrative contracts executed accurately and in a timely manner by our Polish allies allow the Air Force planned to maintain the required combat readiness,” the Defence Ministry said.
The implementation of the agreement is an expression of national responsible policy of the government to maintain the airworthiness of fighter aviation of Bulgaria and at the same time to continue the process for the acquisition of a new type of combat aircraft, the Ministry of Defence said.
Reportedly, Bulgaria’s Air Force has nine MiG-29s, of which four are serviceable. In March 2017, the lifespan of one of the aircraft will expire, followed by another in April, previous reports said.
Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry had said on October 5 that it would negotiate directly to get 10 engines for its ageing Soviet-made Mig-29 jet fighters instead of acquiring them through a public tender process.
The Defence Ministry said that the move was being made “due to the stated intentions of the Air Force to achieve better conditions regarding the delivery time” of the MiG-29 engines.
Bulgaria, a member of Nato since 2004, has been for years in the process of acquiring military jets that would meet the standards of the alliance.
Nenchev, the latest in a series of defence ministers through a succession of governments to talk about the matter, has said that a deal could be signed by the end of 2016.
(Photo: Krassimir Grozev)