SOFIA --- Although Bulgaria’s Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov had said that the Cabinet would discuss projects to acquire fighter jets and armoured infantry vehicles at its May 9 meeting, the discussion did not go ahead, apparently because of the absence of Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov.
Speaking after the meeting, Karakachanov said that Goranov was out of the country and would return on May 11.
Goranov would “finish his work on Saturday and Sunday for the next week, I have his assurance that the treasury will be ready on Monday – Tuesday with its opinion,” Karakachanov said.
This would imply that the Cabinet will discuss the projects at its regular weekly meeting on May 16.
The projects involve the acquisition of 16 fighter jets and 150 combat vehicles for the land forces.
The decision to put the projects to the Cabinet was taken at a meeting of the Defence Council on April 5.
The proposal is to allocate 1.5 billion leva, excluding value-added tax, for the acquisition of 16 fighter aircraft in two stages of eight each. The proposed financial allocation is also to cover ground-handling equipment, training of personnel, initial integrated logistics support for a period of three years, and armaments, a Bulgarian government statement said at the time.
The military vehicles projects envisages the spending of 1.22 bilion leva, without VAT, for vehicles, systems, additional equipment and training for three battalion groups.
A Nato member since 2004, Bulgaria is meant to upgrade its Air Force through the acquisition of fighter aircraft that meet the standards of the alliance. Through a succession of governments, this has not been achieved.
In early 2017, the caretaker cabinet of the time made a step towards progress in the fighter jet acquisition process, when it was presented with a report that rated the bid by Sweden’s Saab for Gripen fighters as the best. However, amid political manoeuvring, matters went back to square one and the process is being re-started again.
At the previous stage, 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. More recently, Karakachanov has hinted at the possibility of getting second-hand F-16s from Israel.
Given the scale of the spending, the decision cannot, by law, be taken by the Cabinet alone but must receive endorsement from Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly.