Bulgarian military industry to participate in army’s rearmament as well?

The Bulgarian army is professional and registers say it has staff of some 30,000. Back in the communist era the state was considered a frontline one and so Moscow would send generous portions of military equipment, considered modern for its time. After the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the communist system, Bulgaria became first a member of NATO and then of the EU – the compulsory military service was left behind and a professional army stepped in. At the same time the armed forces lagged seriously behind in the technological field. Even now, most of the armament remains Soviet-made and the number of the troops has dropped in a drastically – recent reports have shown that there are 6,000 job vacancies in the army with no applicants at a starting salary of EUR 300.

After a long period of hesitation it looks like Bulgaria now realizes that there is no more time for postponing. The government, the parliament and the president were almost unanimous in their approval for the intentions of the high brass to reform and re-equip the army with new jet fighters, new ships and new armored vehicles for the infantry. Even the money has been budgeted and the sum exceeds EUR 2 bln. for the period up to 2029.

The major issues and discrepancies with the political class are due to the question: what do we buy and where do we buy it from? The arguments and scandals, which surrounded the Swedish Gripen jet fighter, approved by a special expert committee of the defence ministry caused the constituting of an exclusive parliamentary committee for thorough research of the facts and circumstances around the eventual purchase of that type of plane. Similar collisions are not to be neglected in the future on the other rearmament deals, as there are huge financial interests there.

One of the questions is whether we should buy it all from the West, or the once powerful military industry of this country may take part in the whole thing. The sphere has left the difficult years of transition behind and as of 5 – 6 years it has been blossoming due to the numerous conflicts worldwide. The Bulgarian military plants work mainly for export, coming up to the tune of more than EUR 500 mln. per year. Ammo, AK-47s, controllable anti-tank warheads, aiming and monitoring systems, optics and communication tools etc. – these are the main products.

Experts believe that the Bulgarian military plants can participate in the whole process at least in the role of sub-contractors. This is not likely to happen with the jet fighters due to the lack of experience, HR and traditions. However, as Sofia insisted on an offset deal, i.e. “we buy if you invest here”, it is possible that the Bulgarian military plants might get orders from SAAB. Those can also work on the rearmament of the ship-building plants in Varna, on the Black Sea shore. Experts presume that at least 20 – 30% of the work on the construction of the two battle ships might be trusted to Bulgarian companies. The situation with the armored vehicles of the infantry is similar. The Bulgarian participation here might be even boosted, as such machines were produced once, while the current production of shooting equipment, projectile control systems and military optics meets global standards. Those can be used in any future battle machine, no matter which western company will win the public procurement.

This all sounds quite optimistic for the Bulgarian military industry and its near future. Moreover, there are no signs for the close end of the Middle East conflicts, so the major Bulgarian plants are constantly hiring manpower.