An MP for Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, which will be the majority partner in the government to be formed in coming days, has queried the stance taken by the caretaker administration favouring Sweden’s Gripen bid to supply new multi-role fighters to the Bulgarian Air Force.
In a television interview on April 28, Valentin Radev, who was deputy defence minister in the second Borissov government from 2014 to January 2017, asked why it was that defence officials had in 2012 favoured acquiring F-16s but now preferred the Gripens.
Radev said that the discussion by the Ognyan Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet on April 26 had been held behind closed doors, “we have insufficient information, and that is why we are asking this question”.
He said that this was also a question to President Roumen Radev, who had appointed the caretaker government.
GERB’s Valentin Radev said that it was not the job of the caretaker cabinet to decide the fate of the Air Force.
He said that the question is not what platform Bulgaria was buying – Gripen, Eurofighter or F-16.
“The question is whether with this 1.5 billion leva we want to buy a platform, even a new one, or we want to buy security.”
The second was a political question, Valentin Radev said, asking why a political question was being decided by a caretaker government.
“Why are they (the caretaker government) in a hurry?” Valentin Radev said, asking why the caretaker administration had made so many changes at the Defence Ministry, including the Chief of Defence and the head of public procurement.
Bulgaria joined Nato in 2004 and in the years since then, none of a succession of governments has succeeded in finalising the process of acquiring new fighter jets to replace the few ageing Russian-made combat aircraft and bring the Bulgarian Air Force up to the alliance’s standards.
The previous Borissov government, in April 2016 made a decision on calling for bids, which were submitted by Sweden with Gripen, Portugal with second-hand F-16s and Italy with second-hand Eurofighters.
After the April 26 2017 caretaker cabinet meeting, it emerged that the Gripen option was seen as the most advantageous, in terms of price, ability to meet delivery schedules, the overall package and the fact that this was the only bid that would see Bulgaria take delivery of newly-made fighter aircraft.
The caretaker government has not made a final decision on the acquisition, with Gerdzhikov telling reporters, “nothing is pre-determined”.
A decision on negotiations will be made after Borissov’s third government takes office in early May. Because of the sum involved in the fighter aircraft acquisition, the approval of the National Assembly will be required.