Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that a March 1 2016 meeting of the Defence Council would discuss and accept a project proposal for the acquisition of new fighter jets.
This is the latest step in a saga that has been enduring for several years and through a succession of governments of Bulgaria, a Nato member since 2004, to acquire multi-role fighters to take over from its ageing Soviet-era aircraft and meet the alliance’s standards.
In the budgetary framework, 80 million leva has been envisaged for the first installment for the multi-purpose fighters and for a multi-functional patrol vessel.
Nenchev said that he had spoken to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov at the end of last week and Borissov had confirmed the government’s intention to support both projects.
According to Nenchev, the “relevant queries” had been made and talks held with suppliers of Gripen, Eurofighter and US-made F-16s.
Chief of Defence Konstantin Popov said that the procedure for the acquisition would begin only after the project had been approved by the Cabinet and by the National Assembly.
Nenchev said that meanwhile, the Defence Ministry would be suspending a project to acquire 15 vehicles – six cars and nine 4x4s – in a public procurement that would have cost about 1.5 million leva, with the funds redirected to other priorities of the Ministry of Defence. The vehicles were not urgently needed at the moment, he said.
Pending long-awaited progress on the acquisition of new fighter jets, Bulgaria is paying Poland to repair and upgrade the engines of the Bulgarian Air Force’s Russian-made MiG-29 fighters.
Bulgaria repeatedly has pledged to fulfil its air policing duties. The country recently approved legislation that enables other Nato allied countries to assist in defending Bulgaria’s air space, including provision for a command system should the need arise for other air forces to use weaponry in this defensive role.