Bulgaria Needs New Fighter Jets - Air Force Chief
Bulgarian Air Force Commander Brig Gen Rumen Radev on Wednesday called for the urgent acquisition of new multirole aircraft.
Brig Gen Radev also warned in an interview with public broadcaster BNT on Monday evening that the government's move to have MiG-29 fighters' engines overhauled in Poland was only a temporary solution to the Air Force's problems.
He said that even though the deal with Poland would give a "breath of fresh air" to the Air Forces, it could not address long-standing issues and make up for the exhausted capabilities of Bulgaria's aircraft fleet.
Last week Radev stepped down to protest against the Defense Ministry's plans to allow joint air-policing missions over Bulgaria with aircraft of NATO partners. After a meeting with PM Boyko Borisov he withdrew his resignation, with Borisov vowing to take problems in the Air Force into consideration. On Wednesday Radev submitted his outlook on the prospective development of the Air Force according to its current needs, which the PM pledged to make himself familiar with.
Bulgaria counts on Soviet-made MiGs to patrol over its airspace, and a deal to acquire either newly-built or second-hand fighter jets has been pending for years. Even the engine repairs made by Polish state-owned facilities could only extend the current jets' life until 2030.
Radev described the move to allow joint air-policing missions as a step in the wrong direction, pointing out that in the case of Bulgaria it means that another NATO member will take over the defense of the country's airspace.
Even though Poland, Romania and Hungary have already voted to approve the option, Bulgaria's aircraft fleet cannot only count on the Soviet-era aircraft it has at the moment, he explained.
"Together with us they can [patrol over Bulgaria's airspace], but not instead," Radev added.
In his words, a new multipurpose fighter is the best solution, given that it can remain flight-worthy over the course of 40 years.
"A new aircraft is much more reliable. Using it one can unfold strategic partnership programs," Radev also pointed out, adding the acquisition of new jets could also go hand in hand with offset programs which oblige defense equipment manufacturers to commission part of the production on demand by local companies, boosting employment and GDP growth.
Currently Bulgaria's only option to purchase newly-built fighter is to order them to Swedish defense equipment manufacturer SAAB, which was one of the several bidders who have placed offers.
Others options include second-hand F-16s and used Eurofighters.
Sofia, however, has denied setting aside funds for the acquisition over the past years, citing budget shortfall.
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