The saga of Bulgaria’s long-delayed purchase of new military jet fighters to meet Nato requirements is set to continue unresolved for a few more years because the state will give no investment loans or state guarantees for large projects before 2017.
This has emerged from a transcript of the Bulgarian cabinet’s November 26 meeting, at which Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and his ministers agreed only to support a project to construction a gas interconnector link with Greece.
The cabinet declined for now to give financial support to two major projects, the Defence Ministry’s 800 million leva modernisation project and the Regional Development Ministry’s plan to repair and modernise the road network, which has a price tag of about 300 million leva. Both would require a state loan.
Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said that going ahead with the projects would raise the risk of defaulting on fiscal spending targets and would require significant changes in spending ceilings in the 2015/17 period.
Bulgaria joined Nato in 2004 and committed to having eight multi-purpose jet fighters at Nato’s disposal by 2016. Four should be available for operations and four to guard Bulgarian airspace, part of the alliance’s integrated air defence system.
Bulgaria still is using Soviet-era Russian MiG aircraft, incompatible with the needs of Nato and which pose huge problems in maintenance and because of the need to bring in spare parts from Russia.
Should the fighters not be replaced, Turkey and Romania, also both Nato members, would have to continue to assist in guarding Bulgarian airspace.
Since Bulgaria joined Nato in 2004, there have been six governments, counting two caretaker cabinets and the current one, in office since November 7 2014.
While each elected government has been presented with and discussed various options, from buying second-hand US-made and European-made fighters to buying new SAAB-Gripen multi-purpose aircraft, with each package carrying varying financial implications – including concerns about the possible limited lifespan of second-hand fighters – no government has closed a deal.
The saga also has been part of tensions in recent relations with Russia, with Sofia responding strongly when Moscow accused Bulgaria of “betrayal” because of its plans to replace Russian-made aircraft with Western ones.
(Photo: JAS 39 Gripen fighters. Photo: US Air Force)