The Bulgarian National Assembly’s committee on the budget and finance approved on June 6 the 3.5 billion leva proposed projects to acquire fighter jets and armoured cars.
The committee approved the projects a day after they got the nod from Parliament’s defence committee, and a day before the projects will be put to the plenary for approval.
At the budget and finance committee meeting, the groups voting in favour were Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB, government minority partner the United Patriots, and the fourth-largest group in Parliament, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, as it did at the defence committee meeting, abstained. It argues that the military modernisation projects will not bring sufficient benefit to Bulgaria’s domestic arms industry.
However, reports say that Bulgaria’s government will seek to hand as much as possible of the project to acquire 150 armoured infantry vehicles to local industry.
Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov thanked the budget and finance committee for its support.
“The Bulgarian military deserves these means of renewal and modernisation, because the times we are living in are not becoming safer, but more and more dangerous and increasingly insecure,” Karakachanov said.
Borissov’s Cabinet took the decision on May 16 to ask for parliamentary approval for the projects.
The proposed spending 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.
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.
Borissov is due to visit Israel in mid-June 2018.
Bulgarian Air Force commander General Tsanko Stoykov said on June 5 that a new methodology would be used to define the criteria for selecting the fighter jet.
Stoykov said that Bulgaria would be looking for offers for US-made F-18s and F-16s from the United States, Portugal and Israel, and Eurofighters from Germany and Italy, and wanted bids for French-made Rafael aircraft and Sweden’s Gripen. Offers could be for new or second-hand aircraft.
Karakachanov has denied that the fighter jet acquisition process is slanted in favour of any particular bid.