Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on November 27 to approve an agreement with Poland for that country to repair and maintain the Bulgarian Air Force’s Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter aircraft.
The National Assembly approved the first and second readings of the ratification at a single sitting.
Voting in favour were Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, coalition government minority partner the Reformist Bloc, nationalist coalition the Patriotic Front, the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and minority party the Bulgarian Democratic Centre.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and minority party Ataka voted against. Socialist breakaway ABC, a participant in the coalition government, did not take part in the voting.
The first-reading vote was 133 in favour and 42 against and the second-reading vote was 130 in favour and 41 against.
The agreement, signed in Warsaw on October 22 and approved by Bulgaria’s Cabinet on October 28, aims to ensure the continuing airworthiness of Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s in view of the security of the country’s airspace and adequate participation in air policing tasks as a member of Nato, a government media statement said at the time.
It will enter into force after approval by the National Assembly. Because the agreement contains confidential clauses, it will not be published in the Official Gazette.
The agreement aims to ensure the airworthiness of MiG-29 aircraft, providing for arrangements for repair of six engines, as well as for temporary use of two engines that are the property of Poland, for a period of two years.
The agreed repair price amounts to 1.023 million euro an engine and the transportation costs will be borne by the Polish side. The first two Polish engines will be delivered within 20 days as of the date of entry into force of the agreement.
Approval of the agreement was recommended by the parliamentary committee on defence, which said in a report after a November 5 sitting that Poland had the technological capacity to carry out the repair of the six engines.
Speaking in the National Assembly on November 27, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that Poland was the only country that had the economic and technological capacity to maintain and repair Bulgaria’s MiG-29s.
Nenchev said that an investigation into opportunities for overcoming dependence on third countries and diversification of the task of maintaining the MiG-29s had established that Poland was the only country among those examined – which included EU countries that are members of Nato – to have the capacity required to maintain and repair the aircraft.
He said that the total price of the service amounted to 6 138 000 euro.
Bulgaria’s Parliament had been scheduled to vote on the ratification of the agreement at a sitting on November 24, but did not reach the agenda item, which instead of being postponed to the following day, was scheduled for November 27.
Reports at the time said that the Defence Ministry has asked for the postponement to Friday because lawyers were being consulted again about statements by Russia that it could sue Bulgaria for allegedly violating licence agreements by awarding the business to Poland.
Russia claims it is the only one that has the right to repair MiG-29s. Poland, however, says it can repair the fighter jets without a problem and can give guarantees that it may do so.
The repair and maintenance of Bulgaria’s MiG-29s is part of a bigger picture of the country fulfilling its obligations as a Nato member state and in regard to air policing of its territory. To meet obligations to Nato, Bulgaria needs to acquire new multi-role jet fighter aircraft that meet the standards of the alliance. This process of acquisition of new military aircraft has hardly got off the ground for several years, though the current government, in office since November 2014, has signalled a new plan for the acquisition.
Keeping the Soviet-made MiG-29s going is effectively a stop-gap pending the conclusion of the process of acquiring new fighter aircraft. Options in the acquisition process for Bulgaria include SAAB’s Gripen multi-role jet aircraft, offered as new with a flexible payment plan, or for the country to get second-hand aircraft such as F-16s from another Nato country.
(Photo: Krassimir Grozev)