US Moved to Model Bulgaria's Armed Forces for Missions Abroad - Wikileaks

Defense | February 2, 2011, Wednesday // 03:18|  views

The primary concern of the USA with respect to modeling the military of its modest ally Bulgaria has been a boost of capabilities for deployment abroad. Pictured: Bulgarian rangers in Afghanistan. Photo by BGNES

A freshly released US diplomatic cable on Wikileaks shows that the USA has taken an active role in influencing the shaping of Bulgaria's armed force stressing primarily their capacities for foreign missions.

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.  It was passed by Wikileaks to The Daily Telegraph, which published it late Tuesday night.

In the cable, Ambassador Beyrle points out that a decision of Bulgaria's Council of Minister's (i.e. the former Stanishev Cabinet) to revise Bulgaria's "Plan 2015" military modernization roadmap represents an important opportunity for the United States to influence the development of Bulgarian military capabilities over the medium and long-term.

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.

"Our primary goal is increase Bulgaria's capacity to deploy and fight interoperably with U.S. and NATO forces overseas. Given its very limited resources, we advocate for larger investments for Bulgarian Land Forces, since the purchase of additional armored vehicles, body armor, training, personal gear and communications equipment will have a greater and more immediate impact on deployability than the procurement of new fighters or ships. We argue Bulgaria should be steered away from massive procurements on new air and naval systems and toward slightly older, perhaps used systems of intermediate complexity, which would allow Bulgarian servicemembers to more quickly master new technologies and thus become interoperable partners more quickly. We welcome USNATO, NATO and EUCOM officials' visits here, reinforcing a consistent message on interoperability and deployability," states the former US Ambassador in Sofia in the diplomatic cable.

The document says that senior Bulgarian Ministry of Defense officials have warned the US Embassy privately that the then Bulgarian government was planning to reduce military expenditures from approximately 2.5% of GDP to 2.1% or lower over the coming years, which "makes the prioritization of modernization projects and careful allocation of scarce resources even more critical for Bulgaria."

"We plan to present the government of Bulgaria with the following proposals and to use these points as the basis for our advocacy in guiding Bulgarian planners toward a modernization vision that best matches our shared interests. These proposals are intended to complement and reinforce, not replace NATO force goals, and to guide the Bulgarians toward key procurement decisions which will improve their ability to meet these goals," Beyrle wrote to the State Department.

The listed US priorities focus on boosting the deployability capacities of the Bulgarian forces, elimination of outdated defense equipment, avoiding "budget-busting mega-procurements", and maintaining certain niche capabilities of the Bulgarian military.

"Although Bulgaria possesses nearly 40,000 servicemembers, it has no means to deploy and very limited means to sustain forces outside its borders. The overwhelming majority of its currently deployed 727 servicemembers are drawn from the Bulgarian Land Force's four maneuver battalions, virtually all of which have been transported and are sustained by the United States. These realities represent the most basic limitations to increased Bulgarian commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The highest priority should be placed on encouraging Bulgaria to invest in the equipment, vehicles and weapons that will enable them to deploy and fight interoperably with U.S. and NATO forces overseas," the diplomatic cable explains.

With respect to seeking to steer Bulgaria away from major arms procurement projects, the document points out that "Bulgaria has been under intense pressure from France to sign a massive ship procurement deal worth over one billion dollars. While modernization of the Navy remains a goal, we will continue to advocate against Bulgaria spending an amount greater than its annual defense budget on this single procurement, particularly since this purchase exceeds Bulgaria's operational requirements and will not address its own stated top priority of improving Bulgaria's ability to deploy and sustain troops outside its borders."

The US Embassy plans to encourage Bulgarian planners "to fence off funds for requirements essential to overseas deployments, such as armored vehicles, body armor, training, personal gear and communications equipment."

Beyrle also mentions that Bulgaria's current fighter force has reached the end of its useful life but that the USA will seek to discourage Bulgaria from buying Russian aircraft as well as new Eurofighter, Swedish Gripen, and Joint Strike Fighter in favor of older versions of US-produced F-16 or F-18. However, the primary concern of the US diplomats appears to be not that Bulgaria might buy fighter jets from another country but that the purchase of brand-new planes will deplete Bulgaria's modest funds:

"Bulgaria should be steered away from the purchase of additional Russian fighters, which are currently an obstacle to Bulgaria's transformation to a more operationally and tactically flexible organization as expected by NATO. A slightly older, perhaps used aircraft of intermediate complexity, would allow Bulgarian pilots to quickly master new systems and immediately become interoperable partners. We plan to advocate against new, very expensive systems such as the Eurofighter, Swedish Gripen, and Joint Strike Fighter in favor of very capable older versions of the F-16 or F-18 as a bridge and catalyst for operational and tactical transformation. The Bulgarians may be eyeing new combat aircraft, and U.S. manufacturers will, of course, be in this hunt. But cost factors would exhaust the defense budget, and Bulgaria would be hard pressed to perform essential training and maintenance functions on such a squeezed budget."


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Tags: Defense Ministry, NATO, Eurofighter Typhoon, Eurofighter, F-16s, Gripen, jet fighters, mission in Afghanistan, Bulgarian Air Force, Bulgarian Army, diplomatic cables, Wikileaks, US Ambassador, John Beyrle, USA, US Ambassador


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