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date: 7/3/2008 16:08
origin: Embassy Sofia
DE RUEHSF #0453/01 1851608
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 031608Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5211
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO IMMEDIATE 0981
C O N F I D E N T I A L SOFIA 000453
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2018
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, BU, IZ
SUBJECT: SUPPORTING BULGARIAN MILITARY MODERNIZATION
THROUGH ACQUISITION OF U.S. FIGHTERS
REF: A. SOFIA 305
B. SOFIA 303
C. SOFIA 87
D. 07 SOFIA 1271
E. 07 SOFIA 1219
Classified By: Charge d'Affairs, a.i., Alex Karagiannis for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d)
1. (C/NF) Summary. Based on an understanding reached at Prime Minister Stanishev's 17 June meeting with Secretary Gates, the Bulgarian Government is expecting a DOD team in July 2008 to consult on Bulgaria's military modernization plans. Post welcomes and fully supports this visit, which represents an extremely valuable opportunity to shape the future Bulgarian Armed Forces. The level at which this assistance was requested demonstrates the importance the Bulgarians place on our cooperation. They are expecting guidance from us on how to proceed with a potential purchase of multi-role fighters as well as broader input on their modernization priorities. We suggest the following themes to guide the discussions. A) Our shared top priority is increasing the deployability and NATO interoperability of Bulgaria's forces. The Bulgarian Land Forces and Navy have already made significant strides in this direction, but the Air Force lags far behind. Bulgaria needs, and the U.S. government strongly supports the acquisition of a U.S. multi-role fighter. But more important than the particular airframe is the political decision to enter into a long-term partnership between the Bulgarian Air Force (BuAF) and the USAF. We will work with them to ensure that they can purchase the best aircraft they can afford without jeopardizing the long-term health
on improving deployability and interoperability ) specifically, foregoing or delaying a commitment on French corvettes, further elimination of legacy systems and reduction of vehicle platforms to save on maintenance and logistics. End Summary.
TIMING AND COMPOSITION OF VISIT
2. (C/NF) We recommend this visit take place within the last two weeks of July (7/21 ) 8/1). This will allow the Bulgarians time to absorb the messages of USAFE Commander General Brady, visiting July 7, and Secretary Rice, visiting July 9, but would precede the month of August, during which many key Bulgarian decision makers will be unavailable. We have an opportunity to drive the Bulgarian's decision process, but the right message must be delivered soon. Delay will not serve our interests. Since the request for this visit was made to Secretary Gates by the Prime Minister, it is important that the group meet Minister of Defense Tsonev.
Ideally, the group should be led by at least a one-star officer. "Big picture" discussions will help the Bulgarians prioritize their modernization projects, convince them of the merits of an older-model, more-affordable U.S. fighter and strengthen the position of like-minded thinkers in the MOD through our support. A follow-up visit in the fall can then assist the Bulgarians in budget planning once political decisions have been made on their spending priorities.
CONTEXT: NEW MINISTER, OLD BUDGET BATTLES
3. (C/NF) Earlier this year the MOD, then under the leadership of Minister Bliznakov, completed a re-evaluation of its four-year old "Plan 2015" transformation and modernization program. (Reftel C) While many steps taken under these reforms were positive, such as acceleration of a
reduction in personnel and closure of unnecessary facilities, key future procurement decisions were deliberately not included in this review. It has fallen to new Minister Tsonev to address these issues, which are particularly contentious since Plan 2015 originally recommended the purchase of 11 "priority projects", not all of which are affordable under Bulgaria's budget.
4. (C/NF) Bulgaria's sense of procurement urgency is being driven by the intense pressure they are under to purchase very expensive corvette-class ships from the French company Armaris. (Reftel E) The general assumption has been that although corvettes and multi-role fighters were listed as "priority projects," Bulgaria cannot afford both. For months speculation has been rife that one of the projects would go forward and the other would be delayed. Post assessment is that an upgrade of Bulgaria's badly aging and Russian-dependent Air Force is a much greater priority than the corvettes, (especially given the recent purchases of three used Belgian frigates.) Bulgaria intends to make a decision on funding these two programs before August. A U.S. team must visit no later than the end of July to shape that process.
5. (C/NF) The Bulgarian Prime Minister will travel to France on 4 July to meet President Sarkozy, and there is the real possibility that a deal on French Corvettes may be finalized. (Though perhaps for only two ships, vice the original French offer of four.) A expeditious U.S. visit is vital for establishing the acquisition of a U.S. fighter. Should Bulgaria attempt to fund both projects, we need to make the case that the fighter procurement must be given
ASSISTING BULGARIA IN BUILDING THE BEST, MOST DEPLOYABLE AND
INTEROPERABLE FORCE IT CAN AFFORD
6. (C/NF) FIGHTERS: Rapidly losing capability, the Bulgarian Air Force is in dire need of modernization, but meaningful transformation is not possible due to its dependence on Russian airframes. Transitioning Bulgaria to a U.S. multi-role fighter would drastically increase the capabilities of the BuAF and draw our two armed forces into ever closer cooperation. Additionally, it would eliminate Russian influence over an entire section of the Bulgarian military and reduce its leverage over the Ministry of Defense as a whole. (See Ref A for full analysis.)
7. (C/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us the Bulgarians "urgently" need a "positive message" from us on fighters. They will look for a clear indication from the team that the United States supports Bulgaria's purchase of a U.S. fighter and will work with them to make sure they can conclude a deal as quickly as possible. At the same time, we need to stress to them that our aim is to assist them in acquiring the best airframe they can afford. Currently, the Bulgarians are overly focused on which particular aircraft (older vs. newer) they will acquire and are worried about the political optics of buying an airframe much older than what their regional neighbors (particularly Romania and Poland) have. To counter this, we suggest that the team stress the paramount
importance of partnership with the U.S. and the long-term goal of bridging the Bulgarians to the Joint Strike Fighter. The concept of a "bridge" to a fifth generation aircraft is not well understood by the Bulgarians. Some key decisionmakers have even talked about staying with Russian MiGs and then jumping directly to a fifth generation aircraft. It would be helpful to demonstrate clearly to the Bulgarian leadership why this is impossible.
8. (C/NF) Moreover, we need to focus the Bulgarians away from the hardware itself and more on the need for transformation in doctrine and training. We should stress to them that the BuAF not only needs new aircraft, but a fundamental transformation in the way it operates. Strategic partnership with the USAF is essential to this, but will take time. The type of U.S. aircraft Bulgaria acquires at this first stage (for example, Block 15 vs. Block 50) is less important than building a partnership with the USAF that increases interoperability and eventually leads to a fifth generation aircraft.
9. (C/NF) The Bulgarians also have some misconceptions regarding the speed at which they could acquire and begin flying U.S. aircraft. We will need to lay out for them a clear timeline of how long the acquisition and training process will take. (Knowing that they will be comparing this to offers made for Gripens, which could be made available much sooner.) It is important to be frank about the timelines involved, but also to note that lengthy training programs will have to take place before any new aircraft (U.S. or otherwise) could be flown by their pilots. We should also reiterate the advantages of a U.S. partnership in
terms of the comprehensive package of training and maintenance included in the acquisition of a U.S. aircraft.
10. (C/NF) CUTTING COSTS/REDUCING WASTE: It will not be possible in the context of this visit to attempt a full review of Bulgaria's defense budget. But since the Bulgarians have asked us to take a comprehensive look at their budget priorities, there are several areas in each service where we could suggest targeted reductions, with fuller recommendations to follow from an expert-level team. Again the overarching theme is that Bulgaria should, in line
with NATO recommendations, continue to eliminate non-NATO compatible legacy systems and to reduce units and equipment designed for territorial defense (versus expeditionary operations). Specific recommendations in this vein: eliminate submarine program and outdated air-defense systems,
delay or avoid commitment on French corvettes and reduce the number of vehicle platforms used by the Land Forces to reduce maintenance and logistics costs. While reducing costs on specific vehicles and equipment, Bulgaria should make larger investments in training and development of its personnel,
particularly its NCO Corps.
11. (C/NF) Comment: The new Defense Minister is looking to make bold moves on procurement and modernization decisions, but lacks sufficient background on the issues involved. The Minister wants U.S. fighters, but there is a great deal of pressure elsewhere in the government for French corvettes and European fighters. For political reasons, the Minister is inclined to want the newest fighter possible. We can steer him off this by presenting a clear, justified way ahead on the procurement of an older, more-affordable airframe. We want him to remain convinced that a U.S. fighter is the only
valid course of action, while gaining a more realistic understanding of the costs and timelines involved. To make procurement of an older fighter more politically palatable, it will be valuable to focus the Minister on the future goal of a fifth generation aircraft, with an older aircraft as a bridge. The Bulgarians will almost certainly raise the Joint Strike Fighter. We understand that the release of the JSF to Bulgaria has not been approved, but we do not have clarity on
the criteria or decision-making process that led to that determination. We urge this decision be revisited so that eventual release of the JSF could be paired with the near-term acquisition of an older airframe.