Bulgarian President and former Air Force commander Roumen Radev has called for “radio silence” on the country’s fighter jet acquisition process.
Radev was speaking on October 15, about two weeks after the deadline for bidders to submit proposals to supply the Bulgarian Air Force with fighter jets in a process for which 1.5 billion leva has been allocated.
Of the seven countries invited to bid, three submitted offers: Two from the United States, for new F-16s and new F-18s, while Sweden once again put forward its offer for new Gripen jets. Italy’s offer was for used Eurofighters.
Radev, a former fighter pilot and a frequent public critic of the government over the fighter jet acquisition process and numerous other issues, called on the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and MPs to “maintain radio silence” while two committees work through the documentation.
The first committee was initially expected to complete its work within two weeks from the deadline for bids, though it is not clear whether this timeframe will be kept to. Once this committee has finished its task, a political-military committee will review the bids.
After the bids were submitted, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, who earlier had said that he hoped for the signing of a contract before the end of 2018, appeared less certain of this, hinting that the process could take longer.
Among those to speak out recently on the issue was Radev’s immediate predecessor as head of state, former President Rossen Plevneliev.
Plevneliev, who unlike Radev was elected on the ticket of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, spoke in favour of the US offer of F-16s and against the Gripen bid.
Buying the F-16s would put Bulgaria in the club of those able to be as efficient as possible with their neighbours “if something happens” and the fighter had the most up-to-date equipment, Plevneliev said.
He said that there were other countries with Gripens, but they were in central Europe, not on Nato’s eastern flank.
On October 9, Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Velichkov said that if no contract was signed before the end of this year and thus no money spent towards the new fighters, the funds allocated for the project for 2018 could be redirected to overhauling the Bulgarian Air Force’s existing Russian-made aircraft.