Bulgaria is considering the option of getting second-hand jet fighters free-of-charge from the United States, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said on April 22.
A member of Nato since 2004, Bulgaria has an ageing fleet of Russian-made jet fighters, and there has been a continuing and inconclusive saga of getting new Western-made aircraft.
Over the past decade, various options have been raised for acquiring military jets, including buying second-hand US or European-made fighters from other European countries, while SAAB-Gripen has offered new multi-purpose jets.
Among the reasons for the acquisition having not yet having been made has been the wariness of successive governments about committing to a multi-million leva price tag.
Nenchev, speaking in an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, said that he would continue to make an effort to acquire fighters from the US. “We will be careful about in what condition they are and what resources would be needed for maintenance and equipment,” he said.
He said that the aircraft being used by Bulgaria’s military were incompatible with those of Nato allies, adding that continuing to maintain the old Russian fighters for years would end up costing the same as buying a new multi-purpose fighter squadron.
He said that the strategy for the development of the military included other major projects such as the purchase of new frigates, patrol boats and armoured infantry vehicles.
Bulgaria had about 30 000 military personnel, “and imagine if they do not have the ability to carry out their duties – we pay their salaries, but they cannot do their job effectively”.
A day earlier, speaking after a meeting with visiting US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Hoyt Yee, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that the government would wait “for now” before buying new military aircraft.
“We will restore financial discipline and then buy new aircraft,” he said and added that Bulgaria had received the understanding of the US and Nato.
“I am optimistic and I hope that the Euro-Atlantic loyalty, commitment to the pacts would be kept in the same way Bulgaria complied with the sanctions as a responsible country and Euro-Atlantic partner,” Borissov said.