SOFIA, (BM) – On Tuesday, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense signed an agreement to acquire 98 combat vehicles for the special operations forces. The contract’s value is BGN 50 million [EUR 25 million], the supplier of the cars is the Bulgarian company Samel-90, learned BulgarianMilitary.com citing Defence24.
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According to Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, there are 98 machines of ten types. The term of the exclusive contract is three years. The vehicles will have a five-year warranty; the supplier provides all services and spare parts. The director of the Samel-90 company Peter Georgiev expressed his satisfaction with the Ministry of Defense’s decision and stressed that the Bulgarian defense company could not count on such support in recent years.
The vehicles offered by Samel-90 are the structures of the International Armored Group, founded in 1996 in Canada. Currently, they have factories, including in the United States, the UAE, Turkey, Pakistan, and Bulgaria. Interestingly, it was the production vehicle of IAG – Sentinel ARV that escorted the crew of the NASA SpaceX Crew-1 mission.
“We export our products to 30 countries worldwide, and these vehicles are the first vehicles in 15 years that Samel-90 will equip the Bulgarian army with,” he stressed. The last deliveries of these type of vehicles were made in 2010 when Israel delivered 25 SandCats to the Bulgarian gendarmerie. On Tuesday, local media reported that the agreement was signed between the defense ministry and the armed forces headquarters without a tender.
One month ago, Bulgaria signed a contract with Germany for the construction and purchase of two multifunctional ships for the Bulgarian fleet worth BGN 984 million [EUR 495.7 million]. The partner of the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense is the German company Luerssen Werft GmbH & Co.
This was the second major deal to modernize the Bulgarian armed forces. The first concerns US shipments of eight F-16 Block 70 fighters worth $ 1.1 billion in 2022-23. Negotiations are currently underway on another major deal worth 1.5 billion levs [750m euros] for the supply of 150 infantry fighting vehicles. Negotiations were due to be completed by the end of the year, but they continue as bids exceed the parliament’s budget.
Both offers for new Bulgarian armored vehicles are well over $870 million
On October 2, the Ministry of Defense opened the price offers of the selected participants in the mega-project for rearmament of the Land Forces with 150 NATO armored combat vehicles. The announcement of the military department indirectly implies that none of the companies has managed to fit in the budget set by the parliament for the modernization program worth up to BGN 1.46 billion with VAT [$870 million – ed.].
According to Capital, both the multinational General Dynamics European Land Systems and the Finnish Patria have exceeded the maximum funds by many, with the amount approaching the astronomical half a billion levs. However, the difference between the two price offers was minimal [as far as we can talk about something similar in such an astronomical budget], but the company with the more expensive offer offered more than 150 machines and covered some optional requirements of the army. Both companies have managed to meet the requirement for at least 20% local production in Bulgaria.
“The interdepartmental working group will evaluate the submitted price proposals. Field tests of the proposed machines are to be carried out to check the compliance of the requested parameters with the set tactical and technical requirements for the mechanized unit [armament and mobility] and the communication and information systems of the combat armored vehicle. The participants will pass negotiations with the participants who have successfully passed the field tests, after which they will be ranked in descending order,” the Ministry of Defense announced today.
The ministry clarifies that at the end the working group will come up with a proposal for selection of a contractor for the project or for termination of the procedure.
From now on, the future of the Land Forces Modernization Project looks extremely bleak and not very promising. Going beyond the budget framework of the two selected companies legally unties the hands of the Ministry of Defense to restart the procedure from scratch and conduct it again under new rules and with more participants, if it decides to risk doing something like that.
For such a development, the French Nexter fought in a consortium with the Belgian John Cockeril, who at the end of the procedure tried to request a transition to intergovernmental negotiations on the model of the F-16 deal. A similar pressure was exerted by the unknown American company TAG, which was not selected to participate at all, but tried to take advantage of the tendency of the Bulgarian authorities to flirt with Washington lately.
From the point of view of the infantry, however, a possible restart would be an extremely unfavorable option. It is very likely that the parliament will not approve a second time funds for war machines, especially in the context of the economic corona crisis or in competition with possible funding for the second stage of the purchase of American F-16 fighters.
In all likelihood, more details about the development of the war machine program will be available after the return of Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov from the United States, where he will be in the period October 3-10. He is leaving for Washington to meet with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and sign a 10-year roadmap for co-operation between Boyko Borissov and Donald Trump’s deepening bilateral defense co-operation.
During the visit, it will probably become clear when and how to proceed with the delivery of the second eight F-16 fighters and whether the United States will not try to launch a more authoritative company from TAG for the modernization of the Bulgarian Land Forces. Because General Dynamics European Land Systems is generally a multinational corporation with US capital, but it participates in the Bulgarian tender through its Swiss division MOWAG and most likely that is why it does not receive unequivocal support from the American embassy in Bulgaria.
So it is very likely that the military will try to save the current tender procedure, fearing that they will not soon get a second such chance of nearly BGN 1.5 billion. For this purpose, however, they will probably have to persuade once again to cut the number. of machines [initially 238, which were later reduced to 200 and then to 150 to fit the costs into the budget] or some of the required options [such as the extremely expensive communication and information equipment].
However, revising the technical parameters compared to the RFP request will allow companies that have dropped out of the competition, such as France’s Nexter and Germany’s Artec GmbH, to attack the bidding results in the Supreme Administrative Court. So the future of the Land Forces rearmament project at the moment definitely does not look cloudless.
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