SOFIA --- Bulgaria’s long-delayed process of acquiring new fighter jets for the Air Force looked set to stall again as Prime Minister Boiko Borissov hinted at continuing to use the few flying ageing Soviet-made fighters for a further 11 years.
This is the latest in a long line of twists in a saga that has continued through a succession of Bulgarian governments, none of which has taken the step of finally getting the country multi-role fighter jets to bring the Bulgarian Air Force up to the standards of the Nato alliance of which the country has been a member since 2004.
There appeared to have been some progress when in late April 2017 the Ognyan Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet considered an expert report on three bids to supply fighters, ranking Sweden’s Gripen top. While Portugal has offered second-hand US-made F-16s and Italy second-hand Eurofighters, Sweden is offering new aircraft, to meet deadlines and with a competitive payment plan. Gerdzhikov left a final decision and negotiations to Borissov, who at the same time was expected to return as head of government.
But on May 24, Borissov said that Bulgaria’s MiG-29s and Su-25s could fly a further 11 years with overhauled engines. He indicated that equipping the land forces with armoured vehicles and the navy with patrol boats would have higher priority than new fighter aircraft.
Local media pointed out that military experts believed that continuing to fly the Russian-made planes would add up to expenses, over the coming years, that would be the same as buying modern Western aircraft.
In connection with the Nato member target of spending two per cent of GDP for defence, Borissov said that this money had to come from somewhere and the country had different priorities.
“There is plenty of time until 2021 (the deadline for the increase in defence spending). The military should carefully and sparingly say where to put the money.”
Borissov added: “Let’s see if it’s right to take aircraft straight away or to look at land forces, ships…”
Bulgaria faces a possible somewhere between 2.5 and three billion leva in defence acquisitions, to get the eight new fighter jets, two new patrol vessels and 250 armoured vehicles. (end of excerpt)
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