As Fighter Pressures Mount, Bulgaria Seeks Offer from Boeing for Super Hornet

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

F/A-18 Super Hornet

As Bulgaria prepares to relaunch a tender seeking new combat aircraft to replace its Air Force’s small inventory of 1980s-vintage MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters, Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov has indicated via state-run radio that his ministry will be requesting an offer from Boeing for its F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter. Continue reading

MiG Engine Buy Exemplifies Bulgaria’s Cognitive Dissonance Vis-a-Vis Moscow

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgarian MiG-29.

In an effort to resuscitate its dilapidated and obsolete fleet of MiG-29 Fulcrum combat aircraft, the Bulgarian Defense Ministry has reached out to an unnamed Russian company (likely RSK MiG) for the acquisition of up to 10 repaired fighter engines. Continue reading

Bulgaria’s Ever-Elusive Fighter Acquisition Reaches Crunch Time

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry continues to press for new combat aircraft to replace the Bulgarian Air Force’s Soviet-vintage MiG-29 Fulcrum fleet. Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev told local media on January 13 that if a contract is signed by year-end 2016, the new fighter fleet could be brought into service within a three-and-a-half-year timeframe. Continue reading

Bulgaria’s Combat Aircraft Dilemma Pressing on Government as Textron Makes its Pitch

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

Textron/AirLand Scorpion

Textron/AirLand Scorpion

In an ongoing marketing effort across Europe, Textron AirLand continues to demonstrate its Scorpion light attack/ISR (intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance) aircraft to prospective buyers.

The latest pitch by Textron appears aimed at Bulgaria.

The targeting of Bulgaria by Textron is certainly a shrewd step by the company, as the aircraft – priced at $20 million per plane – presents an affordable alternative for a country that is one of the poorest in Europe, and yet hopes to revamp its Air Force’ Russian-legacy combat fleet with Western fighters. Continue reading

Bulgaria Announces $680 Million Army Modernization Program, but Will It Ever Come to Pass?

By Dan Darling, Forecast International

Bulgaria plans to implement a BGN1 billion ($680 million) military modernization program aimed at decreasing the army’s dependence on Russian-legacy hardware. The program, announced by Defense Minister Velizar Shalamanov, will run through 2020. The modernization will feature the long-anticipated acquisition of new multirole combat aircraft that will allow Bulgaria to begin phasing out its MiG-21 and MiG-29 fleets. It will also involve the procurement of a new submarine and new naval vessels.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgarian MiG-29s are slated for phase out.

Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry is currently drafting a plan that would see defense budgets rise to 2 percent of annual GDP. Under this plan, defense investment would rise rapidly on a year-by-year basis, as current military expenditures reside at 1.3 percent of GDP.

Throughout much of the 2000s, Bulgaria remained one of a handful of NATO members to meet the minimum standard of 2 percent of GDP allocated toward defense, despite being the poorest member of the Alliance. In 2001, the country devoted just under 3 percent of GDP to defense (2.96 percent), but by 2005, that figure had dropped to 2.45 percent. By 2009, with the Bulgarian economy stumbling under the weight of a Europe-wide recession, defense allocations had dropped to 1.86 percent of GDP and then fell nominally by 23 percent in 2010 as the government pursued austerity measures to keep Sofia in the good graces of the European Commission.

As a result of the decline in defense investment, Bulgaria’s longstanding military modernization effort, titled Plan 2015, was pushed out to 2020 under the most recent Defense White Paper (released in 2011). Plan 2015 involved the purchase of ground transportation vehicles, multirole fighters, naval fighting ships, communications equipment, and a reconnaissance command-and-control system.

The latest modernization plan announcement appears, on the surface at least, to be old wine in a new bottle. The requirements of the Bulgarian armed forces have not changed, only the face heading the Defense Ministry has. The latter itself makes this latest announcement appear tenuous, as Shalamanov is part of the caretaker government of Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki. With parliamentary elections approaching on October 5, his time atop the Defense Ministry may prove short.

More to the point, requests by Bulgarian Defense Ministers are often given short shrift by sitting governments. An example of this came in 2012, shortly after the release of the most recent defense white paper. Then-Defense Minister Anyu Angelov requested that Parliament keep defense spending at a minimum of 1.5 percent of GDP through 2014 – the result was that expenditure fell to 1.2 percent in 2012.

With a poor economy that is struggling to make headway, readily available funding is simply not there to be doled out. An incoming government sympathetic to defense and perhaps alarmed by events in Ukraine may place a higher premium on military investment, but doing so would require not only increasing annual defense budgets but also bringing greater balance to the way the consolidated defense allocation is then spent. Currently, Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry allocates just 5 percent of the defense budget toward capital investment (i.e., procuring new military hardware and upgrading and maintaining existing materiel). Some 74 percent of the budget is devoted to personnel expenses, rather than the desired 60 percent called for in the Defense White Paper. With limited funding thus allocated so disproportionately, the Bulgarian armed forces remain stuck with their Soviet-/Russian-legacy hardware, despite having entered the NATO Alliance a decade ago.

Unless funding both increases and is doled out more equitably than the status quo – an army forced to rely upon using the equipment of their allies for training purposes when joint exercises are conducted on Bulgarian soil – will remain. But if the next government is less sympathetic toward upgrading the armed forces than it is tackling the country’s myriad problems – which include rooting out corruption, strengthening the judicial system, improving public infrastructure, and adhering to EU budgeting and transparency rules – then the matter becomes moot.