A proposal on the acquisition of 16 new Western-made jet fighters, to cost an estimated close to 1.5 billion leva, is to be put to Bulgaria’s cabinet by June 30.
This emerged after a meeting of Parliament’s defence committee on May 21. Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that he would table the proposal and initiate the acquisition procedure.
Bulgarian air force chief Roumen Radev is said to have insisted on the move not being delayed, given that it would take at least three years for the delivery of the first multi-role jet fighters and the training of pilots and technical crew.
A Nato member since 2004, Bulgaria is encumbered with ageing Soviet-made military aircraft, but for years has made no decisive move on acquiring jet fighters compatible with the alliance’s standards.
It remains to be seen, however, what position Prime Minister Boiko Borissov will take when the proposal is taken, given that he has said publicly and repeatedly that he is not prepared to allocate money immediately towards getting new jet fighters.
The Ministry of Defence believes that the money would not be a problem because the first payments could be delayed until three years’ hence. Moreover, there is a possibility of flexible financial schemes.
Meanwhile, given Nenchev’s reluctance to sign a new contract with the Russian firm that has been maintaining Bulgaria’s MiG fighters – a deal that expires in September and which has cost enormous sums of money to keep the Soviet-era aircraft going – it appears that Bulgaria will seek a deal with Poland to get the work done.
Media reports quoting sources in the defence ministry said that a letter had been received from counterparts in Warsaw saying that Poland would be able to carry out the repairs, along with certification.
Poland has a licence to certify repairs of its MiG-29 aircraft.
The idea is that from the beginning of 2016, the Bulgarian air force MiG fighters would be maintained by Polish technicians.
In the meantime, Bulgarian crews would carry out the maintenance work on the MiGs, possibly until mid-216, even though the country has no licence to do so or certify the work.
Reports quoted Radev as saying from the middle of next year, Bulgaria’s air force would be using its own aircraft to guard the country’s skies.
In previous years, it has emerged that pilots and aircraft from Nato allies were helping out in patrolling Bulgarian airspace.
(Main photo: JAS 39 Gripen fighters. Photo: US Air Force)