In the three months following the stepping in office of this Defence Ministry team, the efforts have been focused on the development of a modern defence and protection of the Bulgarian national interests against foreign encroachments, Defence Minister Todor Tagarev said in a statement quoted by his Ministry’s press office Friday. He says that a number of outstanding issues have been identified, and catalogues measures that his team has taken to address them.
Tagarev took office on June 6, 2023.
The Minister starts off the list of challenges with the difficulty in manning the Armed Forces, where the situation is the worst in the Land Forces. “This clearly shows that the policy of recruitment, development, retention, discharge and social adaptation of personnel has been ineffective,” the minister said.
Modernization of facilities
He also speaks of considerable delay in the preparation of airbase facilities for the future F-16 fleet, risking to leave the country unprepared to receive and operate the F-16.
The Koren training range is not yet modernized although BGN 7 million were paid in advance to a contractor for the planned but not completed works, after which the company declared bankruptcy and the money will likely be lost.
The results in the industrial cooperation agreed in the package for the acquisition of the first eight F-16 aircraft are very modest, and the contract for the second batch of eight aircraft does not provide for such cooperation at all, which is why Bulgaria is missing significant technological, industrial and social benefits, said Tagarev.
Closed proceedings over 2021 crash of MiG-29 and pilot’s death
He announced that military prosecutors have terminated criminal proceedings against Air Force officials, and due to the expiration of the statute of limitations it is no longer possible to hold anybody responsible for the 2021 death of pilot Lt. Col. Valentin Terziev and the loss of his MiG-29.
The MiG-29 jet fighter lost radio contact and disappeared from the radar screens at 00:45 hrs local time on June 9, 2021 while performing a training mission over Bulgarian territorial waters in the Black Sea during the Shabla 2021 Field Firing Exercise. Col. Terziev died in the crash. In November 2022, an Armed Forces colonel was charged with inadvertently causing the pilot’s death and material damage worth BGN 9 million.
What has been done
The government managed to secure more money for defence for 2023: BGN 3.473 billion or 1.88% of the expected GDP. Investment spending is more than 20% of total spending, which also exceeds the plan. We have made a commitment that defence spending for 2024 and beyond will be no less than 2% of GDP;
Stepped up work continues on projects in key priority areas for the modernization of the Armed Forces. A new draft Investment Expenditure Programme will be submitted to the National Assembly by the end of November 2023;
The implementation of the contracts concluded for the acquisition of the new F-16 fighter aircraft continues, with efforts focused on building the infrastructure of its operational base. We have signed 85 design, construction supervision, engineering and construction contracts covering 49 sites in preparation for this;
In the project for acquisition of a multi-purpose modular patrol vessel, we have seen the keel-laying of the second vessel after the first one was launched. We are working on contracts to acquire the necessary ammunition for these vessels;
Under a project to enhance the mobility and protection of Special Operations Forces personnel, 94 of the 98 contracted machines have been delivered and we are working to integrate their radio communications equipment. Acceptance testing continues on the T-72 tank upgrade and the radio communications equipment is to be delivered and installed;
The Control and Cyber Defence Centre of the Defence Ministry has been opened;
A draft contract for the acquisition of a total of 198 Stryker armoured vehicles and maintenance vehicles is being prepared for the needs of the Land Forces Mechanized Brigade. The evaluation and ranking of tenders for new three-coordinate radars for the air and missile defence system is being carried out and a contractor for the project is to be selected. Work is also being stepped up on the renewal of the Bulgarian Army’s ammunition, in accordance with the contract signed with Vazovski Machine-Building Plants-Sopot. The process of acquiring coastal anti-ship missile complexes is also accelerating;
The Armed Forces Strategic Action Plan is being updated in line with the Allied defence plans;
As a host country, Bulgaria has made sure that the NATO Multinational Battle Group achieves initial operational capability at brigade level;
Work is underway to establish a Multinational Divisional Headquarters on Bulgarian territory, which will be an element of the Alliance’s adapted force structure. Together with Romania, Bulgaria will establish a Regional Special Forces Component Command;
A new concept of information policy has been put aimed at providing the public with full, timely and comprehensible information on all government activities concerning defence and national security. This will contribute to countering Russian disinformation aiming to harm the combat capability and motivation of the Bulgarian Armed Forces;
Efforts have been doubled to provide all possible support to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian aggressor. The Government approved a draft Memorandum of Cooperation between the Defence Ministries of Bulgaria and Ukraine. Sofia decided to provide an additional package of military assistance to Kyiv. About half of the total amount of this assistance has been sent, and the rest is being prepared for dispatch. Active contacts continue between our two countries. In addition, the Defence Ministry is providing the necessary logistical support to the Interior Ministry to prepare for the deployment to Ukraine of the 100 BTR-60PB armoured personnel carriers from the Interior Ministry reserves in accordance with a decision of the National Assembly in July 2023.
“With all these actions we have regained the respect of our allies and the global democratic community,” says Todor Tagarev in his statement.