SOFIA --- Bulgaria's National Assembly voted overwhelmingly on July 19 in favor of moving forward on a defense acquisition project involving the procurement of two multirole naval patrol vessels.
The purchase of these naval patrol ships is estimated at BGN984 million ($585 million). The 135-9 vote in favor of the acquisition means that the project may finally move forward after a previous vote in parliament on June 2, 2016, blocked the procurement.
With the project now going ahead the Bulgarian Navy can begin planning for two modern NATO-standard ships to replace three aging Soviet-made vessels.
Back in 2004 when the original warship tender was approved, Bulgarian officials had planned a procurement of six corvette multipurpose patrol boats. The figure was later dropped to four and then to two, and finally - under continuing financial stresses - the entire project was placed in abeyance altogether.
It was revived in March 2016 when the former Borisov government outlined a plan to add two NATO-compatible multirole patrol ships. However, Parliament refused to approve the naval acquisition program - then costed at BGN820 million - during the aforementioned vote.
Instead, the project was tabled until fresh elections were held in March 2017, resulting in a new government formation once again led by Boyko Borisov's GERB Party. Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov submitted the request once again to the government on June 22, 2017. The sole bidder and winner of the tender, local shipyard MTG Dolphin, a private firm based in Varna, withdrew from negotiations with the government in December 2017 due to a cut in the project valuation as a result of Bulgaria's Value Added Tax (VAT) Act of January 1, 2017.
The approved project entails a two-ship procurement at an estimated cost of BGN820 million, this time with payments stretched out past 2020. The additional BGN164 million will fall under the 2025 and 2026 budgets and factors in the accounting changes in the new VAT.