Bulgaria’s caretaker government under Prime Minister Marin Raykov sees the acquisition of new fighter jets for the country as a priority and is keeping the process going, although it will not be empowered to make a decision and there is no Parliament to vote on any such decision.
This emerged on May 7 2013, a day after President Rossen Plevneliev, constitutionally the Bulgarian military’s commander-in-chief, spoke out strongly in favour of going ahead with the acquisition.
Purchasing fighter aircraft to replace Bulgaria’s ageing Soviet-era air fleet has been on the agenda for more than a decade, in the hands of a succession of governments. The most recent significant development was a decision in late 2012 by the then-government of Boiko Borissov to grant the defence minister of the time, Anyu Angelov, a mandate to negotiate a purchase without going through a public procurement process.
This had twofold implications, first after the European Commission had expressed concern to Bulgaria and the Czech Republic about how they would handle their respective acquisitions, and also because of the possible political ramifications of spending a sum estimated at 350 million euro – the latter issue perhaps acquiring even more resonance after the cost-of-living protests of early 2013.
There have been frequent reports that Bulgaria was set to go ahead with getting nine third-hand F16s from Portugal, an issue that raised further concerns about the life expectancy of such aircraft. Also in the running are Eurofighters from Italy and new Gripen fighters from the Swedish-British company.
On May 7, it emerged from Finance Minister Kalin Hristov said that the caretaker cabinet was finalising the procedure of defining the conditions that a jet fighter must meet to satisfy the standards of the Bulgarian military and enable the country to fulfil its commitments to Nato, along with those of national security.
This done, by the end of the month, it would open the way for the submission of non-binding offers from potential suppliers of jet fighter aircraft meeting the requirements.
Hristov said that the process was continuing because the previous cabinet had made no decision about the type of jet fighter nor the supplier.
Prime Minister Raykov said that one thing was certain, and that was there was no alternative to renewing the armament and modernising the Bulgarian military, given the commitments to national security and to Nato.
He said that on the basis of the tenders, an analysis of financial options would be possible, and a determination of what financial resources could be set aside for the project.
However, signing a contract would require the consent of the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, but currently there is not one, pending the outcome of the May 12 elections. The 41st National Assembly was dissolved when the caretaker cabinet was appointed to office.