The Bulgaria 2011 Review: Defense
2011 saw little tangible improvement in the situation of the Bulgarian military, with troubled arms deals, controversial reforms, funding shortages, and hopes for a bright future. Thus, first and foremost, Bulgaria's strategic alliance with the USA, and, second, its NATO membership, have remained the cornerstones of national security policy. The Bulgarian state kept paying for this protection with participation in missions abroad.
US / NATO Missile Shield: Losing to Romania and Turkey
In September, Turkey agreed to host the radar of the US/NATO missile defense system in Europe, for which Bulgaria was also as a possible location. As recently as June 2011, senior officials from the Bulgarian government indicated that Bulgaria would be ready to host the US/NATO missile shield radar if Turkey refused to do so.
At the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, Turkey formally backed NATO plans to build a missile defense system, saying it would also contribute to national defense against the growing threat of ballistic missile proliferation. In November 2010 in Lisbon, NATO agreed to adopt the previously purely US missile shield project as its own. The summit did cast serious doubts over Turkey's participation in the missile defense system because it insisted that its Muslim neighbors Iran and Syria should not be mentioned as a source of threat in the respective documents, and eventually prevailed. 2011 saw occasional reports that Bulgaria might host elements the radar of the system.
The original missile defense in Europe plan of George W. Bush administration provided for stationing interceptors in Poland and the radar station in the Czech Republic. The modification of the plan by the Obama Administration switched it to sea-borne missiles and, later on, locations in southeastern Europe. Initially, there were reports and expectations that Romania and Bulgaria will replace Poland and the Czech Republic, respectively.
In May 2011, the US State Department and Romanian President Traian Basescu announced that the interceptor missiles of the future NATO/US missile shield in Europe will be stationed at the Deveselu Air Base near Caracal, Romania. The System employs the SM-3 interceptor (also referred to as the "Aegis Ashore System") while the deployment to Romania is anticipated to occur in the 2015 timeframe as part of the second phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) – the US national contribution to a NATO missile defense architecture.
The US Ballistic Missile Defense site is approximately 430 acres (175 hectares) and is located within the existing Romanian Air Base at Deveselu. Deveselu is about 50 km away from the Romanian-Bulgarian border. The closest Bulgarian location is the village of Zagrazhden between the towns of Oryahovo and Nikopol.
Bulgaria is satisfied with the agreement reached between the USA and Turkey to deploy in the latter the radar of the US/NATO missile defense system in Europe, Bulgaria's foreign and defense ministers said in a joint statement.
In July, US Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher declared that the US missile defense shield will cover the entire territory of Europe, including all Bulgaria. The Undersecretary confirmed the new American concept is to cover the entire territory of the Old Continent with all Bulgarian Regions, which were not included in the earlier draft. In October, Romania approved a draft law allowing the stationing of elements of the US and NATO missile defense system in Europe at the Romanian air base.
Russia Out and Against
In 2011, NATO and Russia failed to reach an agreement on a joint missile defense system, with Russia growing increasing restless over the issue. In July, Russia's Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin alarmed that the talks for a joint missile defense system in Europe between NATO and Russia had reached a dead end.
Russian officials said the former Soviet republic Belarus, which is flanked on two sides by NATO states, will likely become the first foreign recipient of Russia's advanced S-400 air defense system, which is designed to shoot down missiles. Rogozin repeated an offer first made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in May that, rather than each establishing its own anti-missile in Eastern Europe, NATO and Russia should set up a joint defense system linking both sides' air defense radars.
In May, at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bulgaria's Varna, Rogozin warned that Bulgaria may become a target of terrorists if it accepts on its territory elements from the US/NATO missile shield in Europe. Bulgaria snubbed his "advice" to stay away from the US/NATO missile shield, with Defense Minister Angelov arguing that Bulgaria is located close to countries that might pose a ballistic threat to NATO members and thus supports the project of a missile shield.
In December, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov expressed regrets over the lack of progress in the talks between NATO and Russia on the creation of a joint missile defense system in Europe at the NATO-Russia Council during the annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Alliance in Brussels.
Afghanistan: Bulgaria Ready with Withdrawal Plan
2011 saw the peak in Bulgaria's contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan – a key commitment of the Bulgarian Cabinets since 2001-2002 based on the country's NATO membership but even more so on its bilateral alliance with the USA – with Bulgaria's troops in Afghanistan reaching 602 – located at the airports in Kabul and Kandahar, and in the Herat province.
Even though they were the target of at least a dozen major attacks by Taliban insurgents – even preventing an attempt to penetrate Kabul Airport in April – no Bulgarians were injured or killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
In June-July, the Bulgarian government made it clear it had not stopped poring over a possible strategy to pull out its forces from Afghanistan, or to transform its mission there. The withdrawal strategy itself was announced in late November, and appears to be in line with the US plans for transferring the security responsibilities in Afghanistan to the Afghan security forces by 2014.
Thus, Bulgaria will bring home three-fourths of its more than 600 troops currently serving within NATO's ISAF mission. The two Bulgarian medical teams in the province of Herat will be brought home by the end of 2012; the Bulgarian company currently in charge of guarding the airport in Kabul will come home for good in early 2013 the Bulgarian company currently guarding the airport in Kandahar will follow suit by the end of 2014.
After 2014, Bulgaria still plans to be involved in Afghanistan by participating in the training of the Afghan security forces.
Including the 600-strong troops in Afghanistan, throughout 2011 Bulgaria had a total of 800 troops abroad. In addition to ISAF, it kept up its participation in international peace-keeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Georgia.
Libya: Bulgaria's First Naval Mission Outside the Black Sea
In April-June, Bulgarian Navy frigate "Drazki" joined NATO's Operation "United Protector" patrolling off Libya's coast to enforce a UN arms embargo. During the operation, the Bulgarian frigate's tactical group of NATO ships questioned the crews of 900 vessels and conducted operations on board of 40 of them. The Drazki frigate was purchased second-hand over five years ago from Belgium. It has a 160 crew.
The mission, which was Bulgaria's only military contribution to the NATO efforts against the regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, cost the state budget about BGN 1.5 M. Instead of patrolling for three months, the frigate was brought home sooner for lack of money. After it brought the frigate home, Bulgaria sent five military officers to NATO's navy and aviation headquarters for the operation in Libya to extend its contribution to Operation United Protector.
Bulgaria in NATO
NATO Chief: Mission in Libya Is Great Success
NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has declared the Alliance's operation in Libya is a great success. Rasmussen spoke in May in Bulgaria's Black Sea capital Varna, where he attended the spring session of NATO's parliamentary assembly, along with Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.
Bulgaria to Draft Special Ops Doctrine along NATO Lines
Bulgaria's Defense Ministry has taken up drafting a doctrine for the development and use of forces for special operations in accordance with NATO standards, Bulgaria's Defense Minister Gen. Anyu Angelov told in Sofia NATO Special Operations Commander Gen. Frank Kisner in the fall.
Gen. Kisner has thanked Bulgaria for its support for the transformation of the NATO special operation forces and command. The Bulgarian Defense Ministry has pointed out that Bulgaria is one of the 23 NATO members that supported this project from the start, and is represented with one officer at the NATO Special Operations Command at the moment.
Bisongniero Welcomes Bulgaria's Smart Defense Push in Sofia
The introduction and development of the so called "smart defense" should not be used as an excuse to downsize military budgets, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Claudio Bisogniero declared in Bulgaria's capital Sofia in November.
NATO's smart defense initiative is supposed to build up capabilities through multinational approaches," Bisogniero stated, explaining that NATO's Smart Defense initiative focuses on projects in five fields: development and organization of armed forces; acquisition of equipment and technologies; military missions and support; military training; innovative solutions. Bulgaria is taking part in 6 of the 14 Smart Defense projects but has a leading role in only one project entitled "The role of women at leadership positions in security and defense."
Bisogniero praised Bulgaria's joint Air Policing agreements with Greece and Romania within NATO's integrated air defense system NATINADS as working examples of NATO's Smart Defense approaches.
National Security Threats
Bulgarian FBI: Foreign Intelligence, Corruption Are Top Security Threats
In March 2011, the annual report of the State Agency for National Security, DANS, for 2010, listed the major threats to Bulgaria's national security as follows: the activities of foreign intelligence services, corruption, international terrorism, religious sects, and obsolete transport and energy infrastructure, along with profiteering, health care problems and migration.
According to unofficial information, DANS intercepted three intelligence services actively functioning in the country, aiming at discrediting the image of Bulgaria as a reliable EU and NATO partner.
Defense Strategy: Bulgaria under Increased Threat of Strategic Strikes
In April, Bulgaria's newly adopted National Defense Strategy declared the country to be under an increased threat of strategic strikes with ballistic missiles from afar. This was the first time Bulgaria adopted a Defense Strategy, uniting the previously existing Military Doctrine and Military Strategy.
The strategy is to be in force for a term of 10 years. It stresses increasing effectiveness of planning and financial spending, mandating no less of 1.5% of GDP for defense. The strategy argues that there is a decreased risk for the occurrence of a massive international war but that there still exist regional centers tension and instability. It stipulates that no more than 1000 Bulgarian military servicepersons will participate in international peacekeeping missions at a time.
Bulgarian Fears Al Qaeda, Taliban Would Avenge Osama's Death
In May-June, after US forces gunned down world's No. 1 terrorist Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, Bulgaria's Defense authorities grew concerned Al Qaeda, its affiliates, or the Taliban will seek to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, and the Bulgarian military contingent in Afghanistan was placed on war footing. Defense Minister Angelov said the Bulgarian intelligence and security forces have not detected any preparations for terrorist attacks in Bulgaria; he did stress, however, that terrorist attacks are the hardest thing to predict. Such fears have luckily failed to materialize.
Bulgaria's 2012 Military Budget Falls Short of 1.5%/GDP Target
The budget of Bulgaria's Defense Ministry in 2012 will be only 1.2% of the GDP instead of the target of 1.5% of the GDP, it emerged in October.
Even though the Defense Ministry will get the biggest state subsidy of all government ministries according to the draft legislation – a total of BGN 950 M – and its total budget will be BGN 980 M when adding its own revenues – it will actually be smaller by BGN 10 M than it was in 2011, and will amount to only 1.2% of the GDP. Gen. Angelov said the greater problem was the failure to reach the overall goal of spending 1.5% of the GDP on defense set in the Bulgarian White Paper on Defense. Reaching the target of 1.5% of the GDP would have meant an additional BGN 200 M for the military budget.
Data from 2009 indicate that Bulgaria was one of the few EU member states spending over 2% of its GDP on defense; however, since then, the figure which amounted to about USD 1.1 B in 2009, has declined.
In 2010, Bulgaria has reduced the most its expenses for defense, compared to all other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, according to a report of the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), published in April 2011. The report shows that in 2010 Bulgaria reduced military expenses by nearly one third (28%). Latvia is next with 26%, while Albania, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia all have reduced defense expenses by slightly over 10%.
In June, Bulgaria's outgoing President Georgi Parvanov demanded that Bulgaria boost its military spending, including on a submarine force.
Bulgaria Embarks on Ambitious Military Modernization Program
In April, Bulgaria's government announced an ambitious military modernization program worth BGN 2 B in purchases by 2020. The government plans to spend about 1.5% of the GDP per year on average on defense in the next 10 years, Bulgaria's Defense Minister Anyu Angelov explained.
The investment plan of the military contains 13 major projects but the Defense Ministry has 40 "spare" projects that will be carried out depending if additional funds are available.
The 13 priority projects of the Bulgarian military investment plan are as follows:
Setting up a battalion battle group of various types of forces – worth over BGN 100 M, which means that it will require the approval of the Parliament; Modernization of the three-second hand frigates bought from Belgium – worth over BGN 50 M, therefore requiring the approval of the Cabinet; Purchase of new multipurpose fighter jets – over BGN 100 M; Extending the life of the MiG 29 fighter jets – over BGN 50 M; Maintenance of the newly purchased Cougar and Panther helicopters – below BGN 50 M – requires the approval of the Defense Minister only; Modernization of the navigation systems of the Bulgarian Navy – below BGN 50 M; Acquisition of equipment communication and information support of a military detachment; Acquisition of a new land-based military terminal – below BGN 50 M; Development of technical systems for strategic surveillance – below BGN 50 M; Completing the creation of special operation forces – below BGN 50 M; Constructing operational headquarters of the Joint Command – below BGN 50 M; "Cyber Defense" project – below BGN 50 M; Establishing an automated information system of the military – below BGN 50 M.
Bulgaria's Jet Fighters Deal: To Happen Some Time
In 2011 Bulgaria's purchase of new jet fighters for its outdated air force became ever more remote, after in October Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said it will not be starting the tender in 2012, as it planned. The delay is caused by the fact that instead of receiving a budget equaling 1.5% of the GDP in 2012, the Defense Ministry's total funding will amount to only 1.2% of the GDP.
In September 2011, in a "butter before guns" statement, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said the country is in no hurry to pick a brand of strategic fighter jets and to make a purchase.
According to the investment plan of the Bulgarian Defense Ministry made public in April 2011, it will pour BGN 2 B in armament purchases and military modernization projects by 2020. About half of this sum was expected to go for the purchase of new multi-purpose fighter jets for the Bulgarian Air Force. The long-anticipated armament deal has been stressed as the main priority for the Defense Ministry because at present Bulgaria still has only Soviet-made planes with even the most modern ones – MiG 29 – approaching rapidly their expiration date.
Bulgaria will most likely choose from among the fighter jets of Swedish company Saab called Gripen, US-made F-16, and Eurofighter Typhoon, after in the spring of 2011, the Defense Ministry surveyed USA, France, Germany, and Sweden for their offers. Bulgaria will probably buy 8 new fighter jets, with 2015, the indicative delivery date, likely to be pushed back by 1-2 years.
Bulgaria, Eurocopter Settle Troubled Deal at 3 'Panthers'
In June, Bulgaria's government and Eurocopter finally reached an agreement on the troubled deal for the purchase of 6 Panther helicopters for Bulgarian Navy, with Eurocopter agreeing to cut the deal in half. Bulgaria's Defense Minister Anyu Angelov got his French counterpart Gerard Longuet to agree to release Bulgaria of half of the Panthers. Thus, instead of 6 Panther helicopters, Bulgaria will get 3, and the advance funds already transferred by the Bulgarian government to Societe Generale, the intermediary bank, will be used to cover their cost. The Bulgarian Navy received the first Panther helicopter in October.
The contract with Eurocopter was singed by former Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov in January 2005. Under it, Bulgaria was supposed to receive 12 Cougar helicopters for the Bulgarian Air Force, and 6 Panther helicopters for the Bulgarian Navy at the price of EUR 358 M.
By August 2010, Bulgaria had received 11 Cougar, and had paid 60% of the entire deal – about EUR 240 M – which is the guarantee deposit.
Under the contract, if the Bulgarian state failed to pay the entire due sum, the bank servicing the deal can withdraw 60% of the value of each of the helicopters whose delivery has not been paid for from the EUR 240 M deposit made by the Bulgarian government.
Subsequently, the Bulgarian government decided to pay all the money for the Cougars and to ask Eurocopter to renegotiate the deal in order to give up buying the three Panthers but this decision was not formalized until June 15, 2011.
In December 2010, the 12th Cougar helicopter arrived from France, and was received at the Krumovo base of the Bulgarian Air Force.
Bulgarian Air Force Gets Last Spartan Plane in Troubled Arms Deal
In March, 2011, the Bulgarian Air Force received its third and last military transport plane Spartan C-27J from Italian aerospace company Alenia Aeronautica. Spartan C-27J is the newest equipment of the Bulgarian Air Force. Bulgaria was supposed to purchase 5 Spartan planes, and received the first one in 2007, and the second one in 2008. As the Bulgarian Defense Ministry ran into a staggering deficit in 2009, in December 2010, the efforts of the government to renegotiate the deal with the Italian company bore fruit.
The contract with Italy's Alenia Aeronautica for the purchase of 5 Spartan C-27 tactical transport military aircraft was signed in February 2006 by former Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov for a total of EUR 91.8 M.
Bulgarian Army Gets 30 More Daimler-Chrysler Trucks
In June, the Bulgarian Army received 30 more trucks under its supply contract with Daimler-Chrysler at a special ceremony in Sofia. The 30 "Zetros" 2733A /6х6/ trucks with all-terrain capabilities are designed to transport army personnel and supplies, and are under Bulgaria's third contract under an arms supply package with Daimler-Chrysler. As a result of its contracts with Daimler-Chrysler, Bulgaria's Defense Ministry already has 335 vehicles, including armored vehicles, lighter vehicles, trucks, and buses. The deal with Daimler-Chrysler was sealed in 2003 by former Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov.
Bulgarian Army Sells Assets to Fund Small Army
In June, the Bulgarian Army started a major sale of unneeded weapons and other assets in connection with its plans to be stepped down. Until 2014, the government plans to make BGN 20-50 M from the sale of assets. Objects up for sale range from tanks and missiles to everyday items such as clothes and flasks. According to reform plans, the Bulgarian army must be reduced to 26,000 service persons from 34,000 as of now, until 2014. The plan previews that the army will have at its disposal 80 tanks, 280 armored vehicles and 80 fighter jets.
Bulgaria Seals Deal with Russia for MIG-29 Maintenance
In September, Bulgaria made an agreement for the maintenance of Bulgarian-owned jetfighters MIG-29 with the Russian aircraft corporation MIG worth BGN 1.2 M. The Bulgarian Air Force has 12 battle and 4 training planes.
Warring at Home: Defense Minister vs. President
Following up on their good tradition from 2010, Bulgaria's outgoing President and Commander-in-Chief Georgi Parvanov and Defense Minister Anyu Angelov continued to see eye to eye on nothing related to the country's defense.
The Bulgarian Defense Ministry for several months had shown an alarming trend of underestimating threats to national security, Parvanov declared in March on his Facebook profile, accusing the cabinet and the Defense Ministry of underestimating the threats for national security.
Angelov hit back – not on Facebook but in an open letter to the media – by declaring that Parvanov's criticism was politically motivated. Regarding Parvanov's criticism of underestimating threats from nearby regions, Angelov replied that according to the approved National Security Strategy, none of the neighboring countries is considered a direct military threat.
Parvanov and Agnelov also fell out over the participation of the Drazki frigate in the NATO's Libya mission after Parvanov announced he learned from the media about the cabinet's decision to send the "Drazki" frigate to take part in the NATO military operation in Libya. The Commander in Chief noted he was not against the decision, but this had not been the first case when he had been undermined.
On Bulgaria's Army Valor Day, St. George's Day, May 6, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, used the occasion bid farewell to the armed forces in his capacity as commander-in-chief. This responsibility will be assumed in January 2012 by the new President Rosen Plevneliev.
Bulgarian Air Force
In September 2011, the Bulgarian Air Force marked the 100th anniversary of Bulgarian aviation (Bulgaria was the first nation to use aviation for military operations – in the Balkan War in 1912-13), with 10 000 attending the air show at the Krumovo Air Base.
Bulgarian Navy: Submarines No More
In November, the Bulgarian Navy formally shut down its submarine unit at a ceremony in the main naval base in the Black Sea city of Varna, officially retiring the last operational Bulgarian submarine "Slava" (i.e. "Glory"). Even though in August 2009, the Bulgarian Navy had an open-door day dedicated to the 55 years since the restoration of its submarine force, a year later the Bulgarian Defense Minister said the Navy will most likely do away with its submarine unit.
Bulgaria's submarine force was formally set up as an individual unit during World War I, in 1916. After the end of the war, however, it was shut down as part of the provisions of the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine of 1919 in which the Allies banned Bulgaria from having submarines.
In 1954, the Soviet Union gave Bulgaria three submarines, and in 1958, two more. The Slava submarine was one of the two presented in 1958 and just turned 42. Even though it is deemed operational, it is in a deplorable condition and can only go under water for short intervals of time. The only other Bulgarian submarine that was operational in the recent years was the Nadezhda (i.e. "Hope"); it has practically been retired for ten years because it lacks a battery. At the beginning of 2009, the Bulgarian Navy considered turning it into a museum.
Bulgarian Navy with New Commander-in-Chief
In December, the Bulgarian Navy changed its Commander-in-Chief at a special ceremony at the Defense Ministry headquarters. After being in charge of the Bulgarian Navy for approximately two years, outgoing commander of the Bulgarian Navy, Vice-Admiral Plamen Manushev, transferred his responsibilities to Rear Admiral Rumen Nikolov. Manushev himself moved to the post of Deputy Defense Commander replacing Vice-Admiral, Minko Kavaldzhiev, who is retiring.
In May, the Bulgarian Naval Academy in Varna celebrated its 130th birthday amidst much praise for its contribution for both the military and the society.
Bulgaria's Army: Efficient?
In April, various types of land forces of the Bulgarian Army "demonstrated efficiency" and coordination during large-scale military drills, according to Defense Minister Anyu Angelov. A total of 1 400 troops and 500 units of military equipment took part in the "United Force 2011" exercise at the Koren training ground near Haskovo in Southern Bulgaria. The drills tested the coordination of artillery, tank, infantry and special force units of the Bulgarian Army; they practiced responding to an enemy attack and counter-attacking techniques.
Army Training to Be Available to Bulgarian College Students
In August, new draft legislation stipulated that Bulgarian college and university students will have the opportunity to choose to take part in a free military training. Students at state institutions of higher learning will be able to take military courses to boost the Bulgarian army reserve.
Bulgarian Defense Ministry Preserves Alpine 'Special Force' Battalion
In June, Bulgaria's Defense Ministry decided in favor of preserving the only alpine battalion in the Bulgarian Army. The 101st Alpine Battalion, part of the Special Forces of the Bulgarian Army, is based in the city of Smolyan in the Rhodope Mountains, close to the Bulgarian border with Greece. The 101st Alpine Battalion focuses its training on fighting in mountainous terrain, sniper skills, ski warfare; its training is very different from that of the other Bulgarian commandos.
Bulgaria Moves to Refashion Notorious 'National Army Complex'
In April, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense received BGN 10 M from the country's government for the refashioning and completion of the National Army Complex in downtown Sofia. It will turn the National Army Complex into an administrative building to be owned jointly by the Ministries of Defense and Justice. The National Army Complex project ran into disrepute as since 2008-2009 the Defense Ministry ran out of funds for its construction. Though not fully completed, it was put on sale for BGN 100 M by former Defense Minister Nikolay Tsonev in 2008 but no investors showed any interest.
Bulgaria Has Largest Share of Women among NATO Armies
Data as of March 2011, indicated that the percentage of women in the Bulgarian Army is the highest among all NATO members. Women constitute 14% of Bulgaria's Army, while the average for the alliance is 8-10%. The share of Bulgarian women is highest in the air force – 19%. Rositsa Chertokova from the Military Medical Academy in Sofia became the first Bulgarian woman to reach the rank of colonel, with Minister Angelov declaring he hoped for a female Bulgarian general soon. 13 women took part in Bulgaria's 165-strong contingent that left for Afghanistan in July 2011, while the Bulgarian Army moved to appoint its first female "guardsmen".
450 Soldiers from Ethnic Minorities Serve in Bulgarian Army
Only about 450 soldiers in the Bulgarian Army are from Bulgaria's major ethnic minorities, according to data revealed in July 2011. About 300 of the soldiers in the Bulgarian Army determined themselves as being of ethnic Turkish ethnicity, while about 140 said they were ethnic Roma. At the same time, however, the number of the soldiers from ethnic minorities might be greater because the Bulgarian military does not oblige its servicemen and servicewomen to declare their ethnic identity, and this information is provided on a voluntary basis. The active personnel of the Bulgarian armed forces (Army, Navy, and Air Force), which was professionalized in the late 1990s and consists only of mercenaries as opposed to the universal draft existing earlier, is about 34 000, including the administrative staff; the reserve personnel is set at 300 000.
No. 1 Defense Priority: Alliance with USA (and Tennessee)
All throughout 2011, Bulgaria enjoyed steady defense ties with the US, with a number of high-ranking US military officials visiting.
In November, US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus conveyed special thanks by US President Barack Obama to Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov for Bulgaria's military mission in Afghanistan, and NATO's United Protector Mission off the Libyan coast during the civil war in Libya where Bulgaria took part with the Drazki frigate patrolling in the Mediterranean.
In December, the praises were reiterated by US Air Force General Mark Welsh III, who currently serves as the 34th Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and as Commander, Allied Air Command Ramstein, Germany, with respect to the cooperation between the Bulgarian Air Force and the military of the USA and NATO.
In January, Bulgaria got a visit by Major General Terry M. Haston, who is in charge of the US Army National Guard in Tennessee. As part of the Bulgarian-US military cooperation and partnership, Bulgaria is paired with the state of Tennessee (which is similar to Bulgaria in size and population) under the State Partnership Program of the US Department of Defense.
These ties were confirmed in August, when Bulgaria's military police held military drills with the Tennessee National Guard entitled "Watchful Guard 2011" on the Novo Selo Training Ground in Southeastern Bulgaria, which is a joint-use training facility of the Bulgarian and US armed forces under "Task Force East".
In March, the US Department of State announced it has assisted the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Bulgaria in safely destroying 500 surplus Man-Portable Air Defense Systems ( MANPADS ) missiles and 500 grip stocks ( launchers ). Following the disposal operation, the US Department of State provided additional funding to support clearance operations around Bulgaria's Chelopechene Ammunition Storage facility, where a catastrophic explosion of obsolete munitions occurred on July 3, 2008.
Another high-level American official to meet with Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov was Gen. James Jones, US President Barack Obama's former national security advisor (in August).
In May 2011, the Bulgarian government allowed the airport in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas to be used for a refueling hub for US Afghanistan missions. The temporary use of Burgas is provoked by routine repairs at the Turkish Incirlik Air Base, which has served as a main hub for missions in support for the war in Afghanistan.
In April-May, Bulgarian and US forces staged the annual joint Bulgarian-US military training "Thracian Spring 2011" around the Plovdiv Airport and the Krumovo Air Base.
In early 2011, US diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks demonstrated the way the USA has been moving to influence the transformation of the Bulgarian armed forces.
The document entitled "Strategy to Shape Bulgaria's Military Modernization" is a US diplomatic cable sent on October 29, 2007, by John Beyrle, then US Ambassador to Bulgaria. Beyrle argues that the US should help Bulgaria boost its capacity to deploy forces on missions abroad rather than invest its anyway limited resources in the purchase of expensive weapon systems, thus modeling Bulgaria's future weapons procurement decisions. The cable also reveals the US Embassy in Sofia sought to discourage Bulgaria from going for costly armament procurement deals over concerns with the latter's limited funds.
Bulgaria and the Still Imaginary EU Defense Cooperation
Not unlike 2010, in 2011 Bulgaria remained especially eager about the development of an EU defense policy and cooperation, which, however, have persisted to be largely imaginary.
In April, at a meeting between Defense Minister Angelov and his Polish counterpart Bogdan Klich, Bulgaria declared all-out support for the plans of the Polish EU Presidency to boost the European Security and Defense Policy, which brought little progress later in the year.
Earlier in 2011, Bulgaria expressed support for the initiative on the European Defense and Security Policy (EDSP) spearheaded by Sweden and Germany for "efforts pooling and resources sharing" by the EU member states. Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov welcomed the initiative during his meeting with his Swedish counterpart Sten Tolgfors in Stockholm.
Much of the EDSP progress, however, got stalled in July when the UK government declared itself against a proposal for setting up a permanent operational headquarters of the EU for security and defense, announced by British Foreign Secretary William Hague. In his words, the UK is the only country prepared to block the proposal for establishing a joint operational headquarters of the EU – a project put forth especially by France, among other EU member states. The UK said such headquarters would duplicate NATO functions.
Know Thy Neighbors through Military Cooperation
Bulgarian Defense Head Upbeat about Balkan Security, Stability. In June, Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov told the 28th International Conference on Global Security in Paris, France, that both the political climate and the thinking in the Balkans have changed tremendously in a positive direction in the past 10 years.
Greece Backs Bulgaria as Permanent Host of South-Eastern Europe Brigade
In July, Greece supported Bulgaria's aspiration to become the permanent seat of the South-Eastern Europe Brigade after 2015 – which was offered by Bulgaria in the fall of 2010. The South-Eastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG) is a cooperation project of seven regional NATO and Partnership for Peace states: Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Romania, and Turkey. Up to now, SEEBRIG has been hosted at a rotation principle. Its first domicile was Bulgaria's Plovdiv (1999-2003), after which it moved to Constanta, Romania (2003-2007), and then to Istanbul, Turkey (2007-2011), and has recently been based in Larissa, Greece, for 2011-2015.
Gen. Ioannis Giagkos, Chief of the National Defense Staff of Greece, was received in Sofia by Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov.
Bulgaria, Serbia Stage Drills in "Warlike" Conditions
Fire erupted during the second annual Bulgarian-Serbian joint anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) drills near Shabla on the Black Sea in August, before the eyes of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Serbian President Boris Tadic, together with Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov and his Serbian counterpart Dragan Sutanovac.
Shortly after the firing of the first two anti-aircraft rockets, the grass around the firing ground off the Black Sea coast caught fire, engulfing the entire firing ground in thick smoke.
Back in 2009, when the drills were carried out only by the Bulgarian armed forces, one of the rockets exploded 50 meters up in the air a second after the launch in front of the eyes of then Defense Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, and President Georgi Parvanov
The 2011 Bulgarian-Serbian anti-aircraft military training near Shabla took place for a second year in a row. They featured units from the Bulgarian Air Force, the Bulgarian Navy, the Bulgarian Army and the Bulgarian Border Police as well as an AAA brigade from the Serbian Air Force.
In June, a detachment of the Serbian land forces took part for the first time in joint Bulgarian-US military drills at the Novo Selo Training Ground near Sliven in Southern Bulgaria. The military training was entitled "Black Sea Rotation Forces – 11" (BSRF-11).
Bulgaria, Turkey Declare Desire for Military-Industrial Ties
In January, Bulgaria's Defense Minister Gen. Anyu Angelov met in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul reviewing the bilateral defense relations.
Angelov and Gonul have declared their satisfaction with the existing bilateral military cooperation, pointing out as successful the initiatives for exchanging land units for military drills, joint training of the special operation forces and peace-keeping forces, participation with battle ships and observers in international naval drills, and the exchange of military academy students and professors.
Angelov met with Murat Bayar, Turkey's Deputy Minister of National Defense in charge of the military-industrial complex. Bulgaria's Defense Minister declared that the 1992 agreement between the two countries for military and technical cooperation is not good enough any more, and expressed his expectations that a new agreement will be drafted to provide for practical results in military-industrial affairs.
Israel – A New Strategic Ally without Much Talk
After an unprecedented joint sitting of the Cabinets of Bulgaria and Israel, the PMs of the two nations Boyko Borisov and Benjamin Netanyahu announced Bulgaria and Israel are going to hammer our agreements for close cooperation in defense. Bulgaria and Israel signed several bilateral agreements in fields such as economy, agriculture, and culture; bilateral deals in defense, however, are still being hammered out.
Bulgaria, China Seek to Deepen Military Cooperation
In December, Bulgaria and China declared they are looking forward to enhancing their military cooperation, as Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov held talks with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie in Beijing. The Bulgarian Defense Minister pointed out that military ties between the two countries have made a positive contribution to their bilateral ties since the two countries launched diplomatic relations 62 years ago. Liang said the two militaries have held close high-level visits and made progress in cooperation on personal training and logistics. Angelov and Liang signed a Memorandum of Understanding that aims at the further enhancement of the military cooperation between the two countries.
Bulgaria Ratifies Cluster Bomb Treaty
In April, Bulgaria became the 56th nation to ratify the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Cluster Munition Coalition announced praising the country's stand on cluster bombs. H. E. Rayko Raytchev, Bulgaria's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, deposited Bulgaria's instrument of ratification at the United Nations, and the treaty entered into force for Bulgaria on October 1, 2011. A total of 108 countries have signed the treaty, which entered into force as binding international law on August 1, 2010.
Having Laughs with the Bulgarian Military
Bulgarian Defense Ministry Looks for Someone to Defend It
In August, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense started a tender for EUR 5 M for security guard services at its sites across the country. The amount will cover 163 sites of the Ministry, with a time period through 2014.
Bulgarian Defense Min Refuses to Dispatch Commandos against FMD Cows
In April, Bulgaria's fight against the spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) along its southeast border has reached ridiculous dimensions after a statement snipers will shoot down infected cows caused a scandal. Bulgaria's Defense Minister Anyu Angelov denied any kind of involvement of the military in the hunting down of FMD-infected cows in the regions bordering Turkey, after Bulgarian Food Safety Agency Yordan Voynov said the military had promised him to send snipers from the special forces in Plovdiv to take out about 25 "wild cows" infected with FMD and wandering in the affected region.
"The special forces are special forces. There are enough hunters in Bulgaria – I think about 130 000 – and they can take care of any cows," Defense Minister Angelov said.
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