Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on July 7 that his sole requirement in the process of acquiring jet fighters for the Air Force is that they should be new.
Of the three bids submitted in 2016 in response to Bulgaria’s call for proposals, the only one involving aircraft newly-made to order was Sweden’s Gripen. This was ranked highest by an interdepartmental expert committee that examined the bids.
Borissov’s July 7 statement in the twists and turns of the saga of the jet fighter acquisition is a different message from that in one of his previous statements, when he said that his primary demand was that payments should be stretched out over as long a period as possible.
His comment came a day after Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said that negotiations on acquiring new fighters would be postponed until after a parliamentary ad hoc committee investigating the process so far had completed its work. The committee has a two-month lifespan, to some time in September.
Borissov said that the experts could have their say, but a lot of money would be spent on the aircraft and so they should be new.
He said that the three processes of modernising Bulgaria’s armed forces should run in parallel.
In terms of an envisaged process with a price tag of 3.5 billion leva (about 1.78 billion euro), Bulgaria plans to acquire new fighter jets, two naval patrol vessels, and armoured vehicles for the infantry.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian President Roumen Radev, in an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, said that he saw changes planned to the Defence and Armed Forces Act as an attempt to politicise the military.
The military modernisation process has been the subject of tensions between Radev and Borissov’s GERB party, though the President and Prime Minister have been at pains to try to show no differences between them on issues such as the fighter jet acquisition.
Radev, who before standing in Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential elections was head of the Air Force, earlier described the formation of the parliamentary ad hoc committee on the jet fighter acquisition process as an attempt to set up a “tribunal”.
The committee was formed at the initiative of GERB, with the party’s parliamentary leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov levelling allegations at Radev of interference in the jet fighter acquisition process before the January/May 2017 caretaker cabinet had taken a decision. But at the same time, Tsvetanov has claimed that the formation of the committee is not directed against the President.
Radev, in the interview shown by BNT on July 7, said: “I have heard all the chaotic, mutually contradictory speeches. I am not yet aware of how this committee will work, by what mechanisms, by what methods it will work, let’s see what the approach is, and then I will comment. But I hope that this committee will not stop the projects for the modernisation of the Bulgarian military”.
As to the changes to the Defence and Armed Forces Act, which envisage military candidates for senior positions appearing at hearings before the parliamentary committee on defence, Radev said that this would not take over his powers.
Constitutionally, the President is also the commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian armed forces, and decrees top military appointments.
Radev added that in any event, the changes to the Defence Act weakened the presidential institution in terms of the armed forces.
“You remember how a quarter of a century ago, we depoliticised the Bulgarian army. I see attempts to reverse this process. That, I think, is big trouble. And if the defence committee and the National Assembly as a whole has more influence and authority over the armed forces, let them do so by adopting appropriate laws on the armed forces and military personnel and not by forceful summoning and questioning of candidate generals,” Radev said.