Bulgaria’s security council agrees military modernisation, spending, should be stepped up

A five-hour meeting of Bulgaria’s Consultative Council on National Security, prompted by the Russia-Ukraine crisis, produced little that had not been heard before on the theme of the need to step up the modernisation of Bulgaria’s armed forces and spending on defence.

Flanked by members of the council – which include the Prime Minister, government ministers, political leaders and security, defence and intelligence chiefs – President Roumen Radev said that the council had agreed that the escalation of tensions in the Black Sea region, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Asia, international terrorism and migration flows posed significant challenges to Bulgaria.

Radev said that there was consensus that the ongoing conflicts and the escalation at the border of Ukraine posed “challenges” to the region.

The council agreed that the government should propose, and Parliament consider, accelerating the procedures for modernisation of Bulgaria’s armed forces.

The Cabinet should propose an investment programme for the modernisation of the various branches of the armed forces, and should analyse the possibilities to increase defence spending to two per cent of GDP as soon as possible.

That latter point was reminiscent of a Consultative Council on National Security, convened by then-President Rossen Plevneliev in April 2015, at which it was agreed that defence spending should begin to rise in 2016 until, after a 10-year period, it reached two per cent of GDP 10 years later.

Previous Bulgarian governments have embarked on various military modernisation projects, including the acquisition of two new naval patrol vessels, armoured vehicles and fighter jets, but most have stumbled, with the exception of a deal to buy eight F-16 fighter jets to succeed Bulgaria’s few and ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting production, delivery of the F-16s to Bulgaria is being delayed.

For a number of years, there have been deployments of fighters from Nato allied air forces to assist Bulgaria in policing its air space.

Radev said that the council had agreed that the government should consider the possibility of updating the plan, adopted in 2017, for the modernisation of the armed forces to 2024.

He said that the pace of modernisation of the military did not meet modern requirements.

According to Radev, contracts that had been concluded neglected some of the capabilities stated in the military modernisation investment spending projects that had been adopted by the 44th National Assembly.

“There are regulations that further hinder and slow the process of rearmament and modernisation – all this leads to loss of capabilities, non-fulfillment of Allied commitments, increasing the risk to the health and life of service personnel, and it requires the provision of necessary resources to maintain available equipment and armaments until new ones arrive,” he said.

The Cabinet should provide funds for the maintenance of current fighter jets and naval vessels so that the country did not lose its sovereignty, he said.

Effective measures were needed to increase interest in joining the military, Radev said.

(Screenshot: Bulgarian National Television’s live broadcast of Radev’s statement after the meeting)

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