SOFIA, Bulgaria (BulgarianMilitary.com) – The Bulgarian Minister of Defence Krasimir Karakachanov outlined a possible scenario for increasing the budget of the new type combat aircraft project, although he excluded such an option a month ago. In an interview with the Bulgarian television Channel 3 on the topic, he noted and the possibility for the government to propose to the National Assembly increasing of the estimated cost, which is set to be up to 1.8 billion BGN (VAT included), learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
Karakachanov explained that in accordance with the procedure, the working groups of experts will offer him the evaluation of the bids, then, together with the Minister of Economy, he will prepare a report on the basis of the proposed decision by the committee, after that, this report will be brought to the attention of the Council of Ministers. He outlined three likely scenarios within this report. The first envisages the negotiations with the country, whose offer is considered to be the best one, to be started. Also, there is a possibility, the report to state that all offers exceed the budget provided by the National Assembly, and in this case, more money needs to be allocated. And the third hypothesis is for the National Assembly to vote the Bulgarian government to start direct negotiations with one of the three bidders.
If a budget change is needed, this would lead to a serious delay in the procedure, as well as to possible appeals due to the changed terms and even to a failure of the deal.
The Bulgarian Defence Minister said he cannot comment publicly on the parameters of the bids, but stated that some of them are over the budget, and others are technically within it.
Although the final word will be political, Krasimir Karakachanov pointed out that there was no option his decision to differ from that of the experts, saying “if the head of the working group and the experts from the three ministries, including the State Agency for National Security write to me that we have to choose the fighter X, I cannot write the opposite, it would be abuse of office.”
The two main competitors, the U.S. and Lockheed Martin with F-16, and Sweden and SAAB with Gripen, said they were ready to optimize their bids. Lockheed Martin stated that the company would lower the price and Sweden, on their side, offered 10 fighters within the same budget. At the end of last week, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov described the U.S. proposal as “significantly better than the others” but according to unofficial information, its cost is higher.
Speaking on the background of Lockheed Martin’s recent statement that the U.S. company would optimize the offered price, Karakachanov explained that it has not yet been clarified as no talks have been held about how much money, in what direction, etc. “However, what they offer is a fighter with a full set of equipment,” he said.
About SAAB’s proposal, the Bulgarian Defence Minister stated: “If the number of the proposed aircraft is over eight or nine or ten, that will be at the expense of some of their capabilities.” He added that if the offer includes more fighters they probably will lack something in order to be within the set budget.
However, this has not yet been commented by Sweden and the manufacturer.
This week, the U.S. bidder Lockheed Martin announced that “Selection of the latest-generation Lockheed Martin F-16 will create the potential for young Bulgarian engineers and scientists to become involved in a new generation of unmanned aircraft and other cutting-edge autonomous systems, for both commercial and military use”. The manufacture added that if Bulgaria becomes one of the F-16 users, it will also have an important role in the current development process of the entire global F-16 programme.
The company pointed out that with near 700 fighters operational including in NATO member states neighboring Bulgaria, F-16 provides “unrivaled abilities to interoperate in the air and on the ground where common logistics and weapons clearances provide for a lower cost, low-risk approach unmatched by other types.” The statement also notes Slovakia’s choice, which was made earlier this month, of the F-16 Block 70 as its new type of a fighter ahead of the Gripen.
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Source: Mediapool, Lockheed Martin