Expatica news

Bulgaria buys Belgian frigates, French corvettes on hold

SOFIA, December 7 2007 – Bulgaria has approved the purchase of two
second-hand Belgian frigates and a minesweeper, but deferred plans to buy four
new NATO-standard French corvettes for its navy, Defence Minister Vesselin
Bliznakov said Friday.
   "The government decided Thursday to buy two more second-hand frigates and a
minesweeper from the Belgian government for 54 million euros" (79 million
dollars), Bliznakov told journalists at a defence ministry news conference.
   The ships were in very good condition, fully equipped and fully compatible
with all NATO standards, Bliznakov said.
   Sofia had bought a 20-year-old Belgian frigate in 2005, its first military
ship to comply with NATO standards.
   The first of the two new frigates — and possibly all three ships — would
be delivered next summer, he said.
   The minister insisted that the decision to buy more second-hand ships from
Belgium would not mean Sofia was dropping plans to buy brand-new corvettes.
   Nevertheless, a 700 to 780 million-euro deal to buy four new ships from
Armaris, a unit of French defence giant DCNS, had been deferred owing to a
lack of funding, he added.
   "We cannot finalise the deal and go ahead with the project, since we need
to pay 20 percent of the purchase price up front and we don’t have the money,"
Bliznakov said.
   Under the terms of the deal, Bulgaria is committed to buying all four
corvettes and no fewer, the minister explained.
   He did not specify when the deal with Armaris might be finalised, but said
that there was no provision for money in the government’s budget estimates for
the next three years.
   Sofia has earmarked 2.1 percent of its 2008 budget for defence.
   On a visit to the Bulgarian capital in October, French President Nicolas
Sarkozy lobbied for the corvette deal to go ahead.
   Bliznakov also signed a memorandum of understanding Friday with US firm
Textron Marine and Land to buy seven armoured vehicles for Bulgaria’s
400-strong troop contingent in Afghanistan.
   "The US company Textron was chosen to supply the Bulgarian land forces with
seven new armoured vehicles for 14 million leva (7.0 million euros), scheduled
for delivery by the end of the year," Bliznakov said after signing the deal
with Textron vice president Don Flodin.
   The vehicles are designated for Bulgaria’s troops in the NATO-led
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the minister
   Bulgaria currently has some 200 troops in the restive southern province of
Kandahar and another 200-strong contingent guarding the airport in the capital
   Bliznakov, who visited Afghanistan at the end of October, said Friday he
wold propose sending 20 more soldiers to Kabul.
   Bulgaria also has 155 soldiers in Iraq, where it has lost 13 troops and six
civilians since the US-led invasion in 2003.