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Cablegate: Supporting Bulgarian Military Modernization

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

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

NOFORN
SIPDIS

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 of their modernization
efforts. B) To ensure that the Bulgarians make best use of
their scarce defense resources, we would like to share our
suggestions on how to reduce waste and focus their spending
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
priority.

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) The Bulgarian Deputy CHOD 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.
Karagiannis

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