If Bulgaria starts a new international competitive procedure to acquire fighter jets, this will result in further delays in the acquisition process and prolong Bulgaria’s dependence on legacy systems of air policing and defence, as well as additionally burden the operational budget of the Bulgarian Air Force, Saab president for Market Area Europe Magnus Lewis-Olsson said.
He was responding to media reports that a Bulgarian parliamentary ad hoc committee would recommend initiating a new fighter jet acquisition process.
In December 2016, the Bulgarian government sent a Request For Proposals (RFP) to three Governments. The process has now entered a decisive and critically important stage, Lewis-Olsson said.
“Saab and Sweden are monitoring the steps of the procedure and the attendant public debate in Bulgaria with great interest, attention, respect and patience,” he said, adding “we are currently waiting for the conclusion and the recommendation of the Special Parliamentary Committee appointed to investigate the procedure.”
Lewis-Olsson said that there had been many recent publicly expressed wrong and misleading statements, criticisms and accusations.
He said that Saab and Sweden had never looked for any kind of unfair advantage during the competitive procedure executed by the MoD and the Bulgarian government.
“Accusations that we benefit from the payment schedule required by the MoD are not correct.
“Like any other competitor, we would appreciate upfront payment. However, it is understandable that the Ministry of Finance together with the MoD required a payment scheme that matches Bulgaria’s budgetary constraints. The payment scheme was approved by Parliament in 2016. We respected this condition in our RFP response.”
The Saab statement said that both Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Minister of Defence Krassimir Karakachanov had pointed out officially and publicly several times in recent months that the government would like to discuss an even longer payment period of, for example, 10 years.
“This demonstrates that there are budget constraints and that it is not an advantageous criteria for Gripen only. This requirement is consistent with Bulgaria’s national strategy and its macroeconomic and budgetary interests, which we respect.”
The statement said that a further important criteria in the international competitive procedure organised by the government is the delivery time of new aircraft, which is driven by the urgent needs of the Bulgarian Air Force.
“We are proud that we are able to deliver new aircraft to the demanding deadlines set by Bulgaria. Delivery time is clearly one of our competitive advantages, together with our ability to offer flexible payment schemes and the Gripen’s low life-cycle costs. We believe that these are the grounds for our down selection in April by the government appointed independent committee of experts.”
Additionally, there were potential benefits to be had by Bulgaria from joining the growing Gripen family of users in Central and Eastern Europe, the statement said.
“This unique regional grouping fosters cooperation in air base infrastructure, pilot and ground personnel training, maintenance, parts and logisitics, and the pooling and sharing of know-how, experience and research. Regional cooperation is an important Nato initiative.”
“Saab has been active in Bulgaria since 2003. We are confident that the Swedish proposal for new-build Gripen C/D fighter aircraft fully reflects the security interests of Bulgaria, and we look forward to increasing the strategic partnership between Bulgaria and Sweden,” Lewis-Olsson said.
In an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on September 19, Emil Hristov, head of the parliamentary ad hoc committee, said that the committee had found “disturbing facts”.
The committee was set up two months ago at the initiative of Borissov’s GERB party, of which Hristov is a member, to investigate the circumstances of the “decision” about the fighter jets.
Hristov said that the committee had divided the process into three periods, largely based on who was defence minister at the time.
According to Hristov, at the time that Anyu Angelov was defence minister – the first Borissov government – the team handling the process had worked perfectly.
The time when Angel Naidenov was defence minister, in the 2013/14 “Oresharski” government, “this period is characterised by stagnation”.
At the time of caretaker defence minister Velizar Shalamanov, “the whole model of management, planning and control changes”. A management board was set up, instead of an integrated project team.
The chairman of the board was Roumen Radev (then the head of the Air Force and now Bulgaria’s President). He was from the beginning the head of the integrated project team. Hristov went on to take issue with how the process had been handled.
On September 19, Bulgarian Defence Minister Karakachanov said that Bulgaria had enough aircraft that could be overhauled, but they were grounded.
He said that at the same time, there were disputes about how to spend billions of leva that would get the country only half a squadron.
He said that new aircraft, not used, should be bought.
Saab was the only of the three bidders to offer newly-made aircraft. Portugal offered second-hand F-16s and Italy offered second-handed Eurofighters.
“We will have to buy fighters anyway. It’s a matter of time. Whether to start the procedure next month or after a year is important, of course, but not fatally, but we will one day get to this conversation, and we should take it from now on, so there is no point in hurrying unnecessarily. But I emphasize – we have enough opportunities – with far less money to repair the available ones,” Karakachanov said.
(Archive photo: A Bulgarian Air Force Soviet-made MiG-29)