Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry will send a formal invitation by the end of November 2017 to the bidders to supply the country’s Air Force with new jet fighters, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov told the National Assembly on November 10.
By the end of July 2018, the entire tendering and award procedure must be completed, he said.
Karakachanov said that all bids received would be examined.
“There is no way to know whether if fits in the financial framework unless we send a letter and receive an answer. The framework is known to everyone. It will be mentioned every time. It is the amount voted by the previous National Assembly, 1.5 billion leva – and the more offers, the better,” he said.
The same day, speaking to a US business delegation, Karakachanov said that the intention was for all three military modernisation projects – the acquisition of the fighter jets, two naval patrol vessels and armoured infantry vehicles – to run simultaneously.
Whether this could happen remains to be seen. The fighter jet acquisition process was set back when the National Assembly approved a report by a special committee that found “serious shortcomings” in a process that ranked the Swedish offer of Gripen multi-role fighters the best. In recent months, the majority partner in government, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, has been leaning towards an offer of F-16s from Portugal.
In recent statements to the media, Karakachanov, who is from the United Patriots minority partner in government, also has spoken of asking for an offer of F-18s, and also has said that he would prefer if all the offers were for new jets. In the 2016 process, the only offer of new multi-role fighters was the Gripen one. The Portuguese offered second-hand F-16s and the Italian offer was of second-hand Eurofighters.
As to the naval patrol vessels, only one bid was received, which is still being evaluated.
In all three cases, going ahead will require the approval of the National Assembly. By Bulgarian law, spending on an item of more than 100 million leva requires the consent of Parliament.
Speaking at the event with the American business people, US ambassador Eric Rubin said that defence co-operation between his country and Bulgaria was “stronger than ever before”.
Rubin welcomed Bulgaria’s efforts to increase defence spending, to make the country an even stronger and more inter-operable ally and to cover the commitments made by all Nato allies at the summits in Wales and Warsaw.