Bulgaria’s parliament approved on Friday, June 8 spending over 3.2 billion leva ($1.9 billion) for new fighter jets and armoured vehicles to update its aging fleet of Soviet-era equipment.
The decision was supported by 151 lawmakers, with seven voting against and one abstention in Bulgaria’s 240-seat unicameral parliament.
It will allow the NATO-member’s defense ministry to restart a stalled investment project for the acquisition of at least eight new or used fighter jets for 1.8 billion leva ($1.1 billion) including VAT to replace its current fleet of Soviet-built MiG-29 jets.
The proposed spending was approved earlier this week by a parliamentary committee, and calls for the acquisition of up to 16 fighter jets in two stages of eight each, with a payment period of 10 years for the first stage, Sofia Globe reported.
Out of its fleet of 15, the air force can currently rely on just seven planes in good flying order. Safety concerns prompted its pilots to refuse to fly in a training operation last October, in a bid to speed up the new acquisitions.
A defense ministry commission had earlier reviewed offers and shortlisted Sweden’s Gripen as a preferred option but the procedure has been sidetracked by the current conservative cabinet of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
The ministry will now seek requests for proposals from more suppliers and under reviewed requirements – for new or used F-16s from the U.S., Portugal and Israel, for new or used Eurofighter Typhoons from Germany and Italy, for second-hand Rafale fighters from France, and new or used Gripens from Sweden.
According to Sofia Globe, Bulgarian Air Force commander General Tsanko Stoykov said on June 5 that U.S.-made F-18s may also be considered.
Parliament also approved spending of 1.46 billion leva ($880 million) on 150 new wheeled armoured vehicles for three infantry battalions in its land forces to replace the current Soviet-made BTR armoured personnel carriers and BRDM armoured vehicles. The approved spending also includes additional equipment and training.
France’s Nexter Systems, Finland’s Patria as well as U.S. companies Textron and General Dynamics Land Systems have already expressed interest in the deal.
Bulgaria is a member of the E.U. and is participating in the Permanent Structured Cooperation defense project. It is a full participant in PESCO’s military mobility, maritime surveillance upgrade, and European Union Training Mission Competence Centre projects, and an observer in the European Medical Command, Deployable Military Disaster Relief Capability Package, and Indirect Fire Support initiatives.
With reporting from AFP