The Bulgarian National Assembly committee on finance and budget cleared $1.08 billion for the procurement of 16 fighter jets.
The committee approved the budget for acquisition of fighters along with 150 infantry combat vehicles for $882 million, a day after the Parliament’s defense committee approved the proposed projects. The projects will be put to the plenary for approval, Sofia Globe reported Wednesday.
Bulgarian government plans to spend 1.8 billion leva (US $1.08 billion) VAT included to procure 16 fighters in two stages of eight each. The first stage envisages a payment period of 10 years.
Bulgaria launched a tender for acquisition of a new fighter aircraft to replace ageing fleet of Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets in 2016. Bids to supply the aircraft were received from Saab, and from Italy, to supply second-hand Eurofighters, and from Portugal, to supply second-hand F-16s.
The interim government had approved a ranking of the jet supply bids, which put the Swedish Gripen fighter jets offer first, followed by an offer from Portugal of second-hand U.S. F-16s equipped with U.S. weaponry. An offer from Italy of second-hand Eurofigher Typhoon fighters was ranked third in the initial bid process. However, in September 2017, the ad-hoc parliamentary committee set up to supervise the selection process, recommended to relaunch the procedure as one of the participants in the tender had been unfairly disqualified from the race.
The news daily reported that, Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov had recently hinted at the possibility of getting second-hand F-16s from Israel.
“The Bulgarian military deserves these means of renewal and modernisation, because the times we are living in are not becoming safer, but more and more dangerous and increasingly insecure,” Karakachanov was quoted as saying by the news daily.
Borissov is due to visit Israel in mid-June 2018.
Bulgarian Air Force commander General Tsanko Stoykov was quoted as saying on Tuesday that a new methodology would be used to define the criteria for selecting the fighter jet.
Stoykov said that Bulgaria would be looking for offers for US-made F-18s and F-16s from the United States, Portugal and Israel, and Eurofighters from Germany and Italy, and wanted bids for French-made Rafael aircraft and Sweden’s Gripen. Offers could be for new or second-hand aircraft.
Karakachanov has denied that the fighter jet acquisition process is slanted in favour of any particular bid.
The other item is for the acquisition of 150 for infantry combat vehicles, systems, additional equipment and training for three battalion groups, for which spending of 1.46 billion leva is proposed.
Reports state that the Bulgarian government will seek to hand as much as possible of the project to acquire 150 armoured infantry vehicles to local industry.