After a succession of delays, Bulgaria’s Cabinet took the decision on May 16 to ask the National Assembly for approval for military modernisation projects involving proposed spending of 3.44 billion leva.
This includes 1.8 billion leva, VAT included, for the acquisition of 16 fighter jets in two stages of eight each. The first stage envisages a payment period of 10 years.
The other item is for the acquisition of 150 for infantry combat vehicles, systems, additional equipment and training for three battalion groups, for which spending of 1.46 billion leva is proposed.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said that there were no political or geopolitical preferences in the selection of the fighter jets. He ruled out bids from Russia to supply MiG fighter jets, because of the sanctions to which that country is subject and because the aircraft should meet Nato standards.
Karakachanov said that it was hoped that the supplier of at least one of the military modernisation projects would be agreed by the end of 2018.
A Nato member since 2004, Bulgaria is meant to upgrade its Air Force through the acquisition of fighter aircraft that meet the standards of the alliance. Through a succession of governments, this has not been achieved.
In early 2017, the caretaker cabinet of the time made a step towards progress in the fighter jet acquisition process, when it was presented with a report that rated the bid by Sweden’s Saab for Gripen fighters as the best. However, amid political manoeuvring, matters went back to square one and the process is being re-started again.
At the previous stage, bids to supply the aircraft were received from Saab, and from Italy, to supply second-hand Eurofighters, and from Portugal, to supply second-hand F-16s. More recently, Karakachanov has hinted at the possibility of getting second-hand F-16s from Israel.
Given the scale of the spending, the decision cannot, by law, be taken by the Cabinet alone but must receive endorsement from Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly.