The choice of the F-16 is best strategically for protecting national security, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, parliamentary leader of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, said a day after the country’s defence and economy ministries proposed opening negotations with the US on acquiring the fighter.
Speaking in a television interview on December 22, Tsvetanov said that the proposal to negotiate with the US on acquiring F-16s for the Bulgarian Air Force was an “expert” one.
At the beginning of November, Bulgaria’s Defence Minister opened the offers from three countries – the US for F-16s, Sweden for Gripens and Italy for second-hand Eurofighters. On December 21, it was announced that the committees that had examined the offers had recommended the F-16.
Tsvetanov said that a conciliation procedure was about to begin, which would take about 14 days, and a decision would be taken at the next Cabinet meeting.
He said that he expected debate on the matter to be concluded in the Bulgarian Parliament in January.
Tsvetanov said that Bulgaria’s neighbouring countries Greece, Romania and Turkey that also were members of Nato had the F-16.
The Czech Republic and Hungary also preferred the F-16 to Gripen, he said.
Tsvetanov, a frequent critic of President Roumen Radev, said that at the time of the January 2017 caretaker government that Radev had appointed, “they made an opaque procedure so that the government appointed by Roumen Radev could choose Gripen and eliminate all the others”.
The GERB parliamentary leader was referring to the government headed by the caretaker prime minister of the time, Ognyan Gerdzhikov, having accepted a report by an interdepartmental committee of experts that ranked Sweden’s Gripen as the best offer.
In June 2017, having returned to office as prime minister for a third time, Borissov said that negotiations with Sweden to acquire Gripens would begin “within weeks”. That, however, did not happen.
Instead, an ad hoc parliamentary committee was appointed in a manoeuvre that Radev – a former Air Force commander, fighter pilot and himself a regular critic of the Borissov government – saw as targeted against him. The resultant turnabout saw the procedure of inviting bids to supply a fighter jet re-opened, and ensuing months saw repeated indications that top figures in GERB favoured the US fighter jet.
A few days before the recommendation by the committees was announced, Borissov said that he had spoken to pilots and saw the F-16 as the best choice, though he said that he did not want to “interfere” in the process.
Speaking at the December 21 news conference announcing the recommendation to negotiate with the US, Deputy Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov said that the acquisition of a new multi-purpose fighter such as the F-16V Block 70 from the United States, equipped with the latest generation of radar and armament, would raise the combat qualities of Bulgarian military aviation.
“At the same time, the dependence of the Republic of Bulgaria on third parties will be eliminated during the operation and management of aircraft life cycles. The motives for this proposal correspond to the interests of the foreign policy and national security of the Republic of Bulgaria, both in the region and in the (Nato) alliance,” Zapryanov said.
Bulgarian Air Force commander Major-General Tsanko Stoykov, who chaired the joint working group, said that the working group had “followed clear rules – objectivity and impartiality towards the parties”.
(Photo: Lockheed Martin)