SAAB hopes that the Bulgarian government will start negotiations with it on the acquisition of Gripen multi-role jet fighters and expects that should this happen, it would be after the summer, the company’s president for Market Area Europe, Magnus Lewis-Olsson told a news briefing in Sofia on June 14.
An offer to supply the Bulgarian Air Force with Gripens was one of three received in late 2016, and a report considered by the Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet – which was in office between January and May 2017 – ranked Gripen the highest.
However, the stance of the Boiko Borissov government, in office since May, has not made clear the next steps and Borissov himself has described the Gerdzhikov administration consideration of the report as “only a decision to make a decision”.
A Nato member since 2004, Bulgaria needs to upgrade to a modern Western fighter aircraft to replace its dwindling fleet of ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s which continue to run up huge bills in overhaul and maintenance costs.
Lewis-Olsson described the Gripen as the only modern fighter in the competition, adding that any expert would know that no other aircraft was more Nato-compatible than the Gripen.
He said that the company was very happy after a presence in Bulgaria of about 13 to 14 years, it had been shortlisted in the bids to supply the fighter.
“What we hope is that now there will be a negotiation,” he said. “We would hope that if Bulgaria wants their aircraft quickly, the negotiations should start soon.”
Lewis-Olsson said that up to now, the process in Bulgaria had been “excellent – very transparent and professional. No one could complain about it”.
He told the briefing that there had been no formal information back from the Bulgarian government on the bid.
“We are not panicking. We are looking forward to being called to negotiations after the summer,” he said.
It was very rare in aircraft sales for a customer to pay upfront, he said. In other deals, the agreement about supplying Gripens had variously been on the basis of leasing, lease-to-buy or buying in batches.
Lewis-Olsson underlined the company’s flexibility in its approach to agreeing the financial parameters of a deal with Bulgaria, adding that the Swedish government could also assist with bridging towards a long-term payment.
Negotiations would “take a while,” he said, noting that because Gripens were built to order. Delivery time of the first aircraft could take about 18 months after a contract, Lewis-Olsson said, also noting that there were quite a few countries interested in Gripen and matters would depend on who was first in the queue.
He estimated that it would be possible to deliver four aircraft within 18 months from the signing of the contract.
A deal would involve not only the supply of the aircraft but also equipment and the provision of training for pilots and crew.
As to the timeframe from the start of training to initial operational capability, in the case of an experienced MiG-29 pilot, this could be a year. Overall, from the time of the signing of a contract to full operational capability, the timeframe would be a minimum three years.