Report: The State of the Bulgarian Defense is Alarming

Defense | June 16, 2022, Thursday // 12:00|  views

Preventive action is needed against Russian aggression in Ukraine, including the deployment of NATO troops and forces on our territory. The Alliance's previous presence in the southeast has no alternative.

This is stated in the Report on the State of Defense and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria in 2021, submitted to the Parliament this week. It devotes a special chapter to the war in Ukraine, but once again this report describes serious deficits and problems of the army, which in the new context are already worrying.

What has been happening since February 24 has been unequivocally described as a "full-scale war" by Russia, which uses all means without the nuclear component, but there is a threat of its use. It is not just a tactical operation, but to achieve Moscow's strategic goals, "including putting pressure on the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community."

"Military action by the Russian armed forces in southern Ukraine is aimed at securing a land corridor to Crimea, as well as significantly expanding Russia's territorial waters and the Black Sea exclusive economic zone. This negatively affects the security and economic interests of other Black Sea states, including Bulgaria", the text reads.

The report states "a fundamentally new strategic situation and especially in the light of the disturbing military-strategic balance of forces in the Black Sea in favor of Russia."

However, subsequent findings show that catching up in recent years will require serious effort, organization and resources. Here are some of the findings:

  • The shortage of staff remains high. The situation with the shortage in the Land Forces is the worst, especially with the declared formations. The 4% increase in the number of personnel in the Navy is also worrying. The staffing of the voluntary reserve also remains extremely low (just over 13%). The lag in terms of the priority of building a heavy mechanized brigade in the Land Forces, according to NATO criteria, is particularly serious.
  • Most of the weapons and military equipment are morally and physically obsolete, with expired or expiring service life. This negatively affects the implementation of missions and tasks, preparation and achievement of interoperability. The limited number of operational aircraft is the main reason for the non-fulfillment of the planned flight hours in the Air Force and has a negative impact on the level of flight safety and the ability to perform tasks effectively. Anti-aircraft missile systems and radar stations are also at the end of their life cycle and need factory repairs. They are operated in conditions of acute shortage of spare parts and consumables due to insufficient funding and dependence of supplies from the Russian Federation.
  • Dependence on the Russian Federation for the repair and maintenance of the remaining Soviet equipment is a problem for national security.
  • The growing technological backwardness of the Bulgarian Armed Forces is alarming, which has a negative effect on their operational efficiency. At a time when emerging technologies are leading to the development and use of qualitatively new capabilities, the risk of a significant and insurmountable technological gap between Allied forces is growing.
  • There is a critical need for accelerated technological rearmament and modernization of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria in the coming years.

The report once again emphasizes the structuring of defense spending in a way that promises modernization, but in fact obscures the continuation of the current situation to a large extent. Bulgaria has committed to a scheme whereby 60% of the defense budget will go to personnel, 20% to current maintenance and as much to capital expenditures, and from 2024 the last item is understood in NATO as a means of acquiring new weapons and equipment systems.

The capital expenditures for 2021 include BGN 258.7 million for the acquisition of new weapons and equipment, and for 2022 expenditures for new armaments and equipment in the amount of BGN 355.9 million are planned, the authors point out. Obviously, due to inflation, the amount for the current year will allow significantly fewer opportunities.

The government of Kiril Petkov is trying to withdraw a year earlier the fulfillment of the promise in 2024 that Bulgaria will give at least 2% of GDP for defense. In 2017-2022, defense spending, as a percentage of the country's GDP, increased steadily from 1.24% to 1.73% (except for almost 3.4% in 2019 due to the one-time payment for the purchase of the F-16; then the one-time capital expenditure reached 62.2% of the funds).

There is no adequate funding for the Land Forces - mainly due to the Plan for Development of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria until 2026, approved in April 2021 by the government of Boyko Borissov:

The analysis of the provision and distribution of financial resources shows that financial quotas do not fully provide the main mission of the Land Forces - to recruit, prepare, maintain and provide formations for participation in operations inside and outside the country. This is largely due to the discrepancy between the financial resources set in Plan 2026 and those under the memoranda of the programs of the Land Forces. This situation necessitates the annual re-planning of the acquisition and maintenance of capabilities, which leads to compromises in the quality of staffing the declared formations, incomplete fulfillment of the allied commitments and to increase the deficit of the necessary operational capabilities.

Depreciated and obsolete and physically obsolete platforms, along with the irregular centralized supply of spare parts and consumables, make it difficult to maintain the technical serviceability of weapons and equipment, especially in wartime formations. This has a negative effect on the preparation and readiness of the forces."

Combat aviation is said to have provided "continuous and effective protection of the Bulgarian airspace". But the same part of the report adds that "the planned raid was completed at 7.5%, the main reason being the limited number of working aircraft."

In addition, 2021 was named "the most critical period in the last 10 years" due to 43 accidents, including a catastrophe and 5 serious incidents "related to the manifestation of the subjective factor". At the same time, two-thirds of aviation accidents (65%) are reported to be due to failures of aviation equipment.

Bulgaria continues to have a serious problem and to see and understand what is happening in the sky and the area of ​​responsibility of aviation. "The radars forming the radar coverage were maintained with extreme difficulty, which necessitates the priority implementation of the project for the acquisition of new three-coordinate radars." They are especially important for the effective use of American fighters when they begin to arrive in Bulgaria, introduced into service and integrated into NATO systems. So far, two years after their purchase, in 2021 only the Investment Expenditure Project has been developed and the preparation of a set of documents for approval by the Council of Ministers and for subsequent proposal to the National Assembly for adoption has begun.

The Navy reported that: “Technical failures, delayed repairs, financial and material constraints, as well as failed planned international exercises in connection with COVID-19 have limited the ability to meet the Alliance's sea days criteria. The shortage of staff has increased by nearly 4% compared to the end of 2020 and reached 16.4%.”

The ships were declared to have an average of 29 days at sea or 27% of those required by NATO standards.

The text reminds that for three years Bulgaria has been without a Methodology for Corruption Risk Assessment due to Order № Р-155 of 11.10.2018 of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. It repeals the current methodology and then does not replace it with anything:

"This leads to the impossibility for three years of the Inspectorate to analyze and assess corruption risk as an important administrative tool for corruption prevention. The Ministry of Defense, the structures under the direct authority of the Minister of Defense and the Bulgarian Army."

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