Bulgaria’s Deputy Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov appeared to dismiss, in an interview with the armed forces television channel, the option of purchasing F-18s as part of the process to select fighter jets for its Air Force.
Zapryanov said, in the interview that was published on November 16, that the first expert committee, tasked with the initial assessment of the bids, concluded that the F-18 bid was defined more as a letter of intent rather than a fully-qualified offer.
As a result, the committee did not carry out an assessment of the bid and suggested that the US be informed that it did not have “the requisites of an offer.”
Zapryanov said that the US have been notified of that fact and that, going forward, Bulgaria would focus on the other three bids – new F-16s, new Gripens and used Eurofighters – but also emphasised that the F-18 bid was not formally disqualified.
He said that the first committee has concluded work (initially, it was expected to take two weeks, but the fixed deadline was later softened) on the initial analysis and defining the areas where more information was needed for a full assessment of the offers.
The second committee, comprised of senior political and military officials, held its second meeting on November 14 and agreed that it would focus on gathering all the necessary information for a final recommendation rather than meeting a particular deadline, Zapryanov said, noting that it would try to finish its work as soon as possible, but would not compromise “the quality of its work” for the sake of time constraints.
He said that there was no “ideal offer” and the existing bids were subject to improvement, which was what the second committee was focusing on with its requests for additional information.
Zapryanov said that more details about the bids would be made public at the point of direct negotiations, but “we are still very far away from the moment in which we can say what we have on the table as the basis for state-to-state talks.”
Bulgaria invited bids from seven countries in July after Parliament approved, a month earlier, a 3.5 billion leva military modernisation project, which included 1.8 billion leva for the fighter jets, to be acquired in two stages of eight each.
The Defence Ministry received four offers in reply to its request for proposals by its October 1 deadline. Two offers came 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, making it the outsider in the race, according to reports in local media, as Bulgaria wants to purchase new jets.
Portugal and Israel, which were asked to submit proposals for F-16 jets, Germany (Eurofighter) and France (Rafale) did not submit offers.