Bulgaria’s long-standing saga of a planned fighter jet acquisition will become a matter for the next government, while negotiations with potential suppliers have been proceeding in accordance with a plan approved by the outgoing cabinet.
In late 2012, Defence Minister Anyu Angelov was given a mandate by the cabinet to conduct direct negotiations with selected potential suppliers without calling a public tender for the fighter jet acquisition, which is estimated as likely to cost about 700 million leva (about 350 million euro).
In Question Time in Parliament on March 1, Angelov, replying to opposition socialist MP Angel Naidenov, said that no final decision had been taken on the purchase of new multi-role fighters and the issue would be resolved by the next government.
The March 1 Question Time is expected to be the last before Parliament is dissolved when a caretaker government is formed, while the cabinet meeting the same day also is expected to be its last.
Complicating matters is that it appeared from Angelov’s answer that the Defence Ministry sought to pay for the deal by requesting a significant increase in its budget. Under current circumstance, agreement on this appears improbable.
Angelov said that, starting from 2014, about 100 million leva a year would be set aside every year for seven years for paying for the jet fighters.
Paying for this would mean agreement on increasing Bulgaria’s defence spending from 1.3 per cent to 1.5 per cent of GDP.
Angelov told Parliament that currently the group involved in talks on the acquisition, headed by Air Force deputy chief General Roumen Radev, was in Sweden to meet Gripen.
Effectively, Bulgaria is to choose between new Gripen fighters, Eurofighter Typhoons bought second-hand from Italy or used US-made F16s from Portugal.
However, there have been repeated reports that unofficially Bulgaria already has decided on the F16s from Portugal, in a turn raising concerns from critics that this would be a short-term fix and Bulgaria would in a few years find itself in the same position, having to face paying huge sums to replace ageing aircraft.
(Main photo: A Portuguese F16, photographed in 1999)