The Bulgarian Cabinet last week approved defense projects worth well more than a billion euro to acquire new jet fighters and two new naval patrol vessels.
The Bulgarian Parliament’s committees on defence and on budget and finance has approved the military shopping list, also including armoured vehicles, at the end of March, The Sofia Globe reported.
Following the May 26 approval at a joint sitting of the two committees, the proposals will be tabled at a plenary sitting of the National Assembly.
Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said that the total cost of the two projects – the fighters and the patrol vessels – as envisaged in the medium-term forecast to 2019, is 2.32 billion leva (about 1.16 billion euro). The contracts will be paid in installments over several years.
The draft envisages 10 million leva for the new aircraft project in 2016 and 114 million leva for the patrol vessels. For 2017, the funds respectively are 200 million leva and 171 million leva. The sums are the same for 2018. For 2019, the sums are 200 million leva for the jet fighters and 97 million leva for the naval vessels.
According to Goranov’s calculations, in 2020 the budget would have to provide 440 million leva for the aircraft and 147 million leva for the vessels, in 2021 totals of 450 million leva and 90 million leva respectively and in 2022, a sum of 30 million leva for the patrol ships.
It is expected that Bulgaria’s acquisition of new multi-role military jet fighters will happen through negotiations towards an inter-state agreement rather than through a tender process. In July 2015, Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said that the Cabinet had given him a mandate to negotiate the acquisition of new combat jets.
The Ministry of Defence has been examining three options for the acquisition of a new type of fighter – new Swedish Gripens, the Eurofighter and second-hand US-made F-16s from Portugal.
However, it was reported that the cost of Eurofighter will be a major concern. So the choice would effectively comes down to Gripens or the used F-16s from Portugal.
Meanwhile, unofficial information is that the Bulgarian Air Force would favor getting newly-manufactured jet fighters, but the decision is likely to be a political one.
In debate on the patrol vessel project, the nationalist Patriotic Front, the influential minority partner in Bulgaria’s coalition government agreement, expressed reservations, with PF co-leader Krassimir Karakachanov alleging that the process of awarding the business was being slanted in favour of a particular Bulgarian firm.
Naval commander Rear Admiral Mitko Petev was quoted as saying in the report that if the acquisition of the two new vessels did not happen in the next three years, a crisis would result.
At present, Bulgaria has six warships – three former Belgian frigates and three Russian vessels. The Russian vessels have a further life of no more than three to four years before they would have to be decommissioned.