Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said on July 1 2015 that the cabinet had given him a mandate to negotiate the purchase of military jet fighters.
Asked whether the plan was to buy new or second-hand fighters, Nenchev said that this had not been specified.
He said that there were several options, indicating that there would be negotiations with Belgium, the Netherlands and possibly Greece, countries that have US-made F-16s.
There would talks not only with countries that could sell Bulgaria second-hand aircraft, but also with manufacturers.
A long-standing contestant in the race to supply Bulgaria with multi-role jet fighters, to replace the Nato member state’s ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s, has been SAAB Gripen.
Nenchev was quoted by local media as saying that Bulgaria was “not pressed for time” because the issue of repairing the Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s “had been resolved” and at the latest by the end of August, an agreement would be signed with Poland on maintenance of the MiG engines.
This statement comes against a background of the issue of a contract with a Russian firm to maintain the MiGs, which is due to expire in September. Nenchev repeatedly has indicated that he does not want to extend the contract, and caused a flurry earlier in 2015 when he alleged in a media interview that he had been offered a bribe to do so.
Nenchev said that the offer from Poland to repair Bulgaria’s MiG-29s was “significantly lower” than that from the Russian firm.
Russia has indicated its chagrin about the plan for the Bulgarian MiG-29s to be maintained in Poland, saying that the Polish firm does not have a licence to provide this service.
Bulgaria also has been facing the issue of air policing, with several previous statements by defence and air force chiefs that the country will have the capacity to guard its airspace only until some time in mid-2016.
Reports about proposals for Bulgaria to outsource policing of its air space to other countries previously were denied.
On July 1, Nenchev said that as for guarding of Bulgaria’s air space, only Poland was interested, but such a decision was regulated within Nato.