Bulgaria’s government will not begin negotiations on the acquisition of a new fighter jet until the parliamentary ad hoc committee investigating the process has completed its work, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said on July 6.
The committee held its first meeting on July 5 and has a projected lifespan of two months.
Before GERB parliamentary leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced the formation of the committee, the party’s leader and Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boiko Borissov had told his Swedish counterpart that negotiations on the possible acquisition of Gripen multi-role fighters would begin “within weeks”.
Karakachanov said that it was possible that the committee would come up with a new recommendation on the fighter jet acquisition process and would want the Cabinet to implement it.
Committee chairperson and GERB MP Emil Hristov earlier hinted that the process could go back to the drawing board if the committee found irregularities.
The committee is billed as investigating the process, particularly around the moves by the January/May 2017 caretaker cabinet, which examined an expert report that ranked Sweden’s Gripen as the best offer. The political dimension is that the formation of the committee is seen as directed against President Roumen Radev, though Tsvetanov, who has levelled allegations against Radev of interference in the process, denies that the committee is intended as a political weapon against the head of state.
Hristov said that if irregularities were found that could damage Bulgaria, “we will not be silent”.
Karakachanov has admitted that Parliament could put the possible acquisition of second-hand US-made F-16s from the Portuguese Air Force back in play. The expert committee disqualified the F-16 bid on financial grounds.
The Defence Minister declined to speculate on what would happen with the size of the proposed financial allocation for the jet fighter deal should 2017 end with no finality on a contract.
Karakachanov said of the possible deal: “Why should there only be the Swedes? Why prejudge the issue?”
He said that if the caretaker government’s decision was looked at, there were two possible contenders. “So there cannot be negotiations with only one”.
When Borissov spoke with his Swedish counterpart, he told him that talks about a Gripen acquisition could be followed by talks with Italy about its offer of used Eurofighters.
Karakachanov said that it was appropriate to await the parliamentary ad hoc committee’s report. If the committee had no recommendations, the process would continue on the basis of his report to the Cabinet, he said.
(JAS Gripen fighters. Photo: US Air Force)