Cablegate: Strategy to Shape Bulgaria's Military Modernization
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 SOFIA 001271
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL MARR BU
SUBJECT: STRATEGY TO SHAPE BULGARIA'S MILITARY MODERNIZATION
REF: A. A) SOFIA 1219
B. B) 1206
Classified By: Ambassador John Beyrle for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) Summary: A recent Council of Minister's decision 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. 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. End Summary.
TIGHT TIMELINES AND TIGHTER BUDGETS
2. (S) A protracted teachers strike and ongoing "transition fatigue" have increased pressure on the government to shift resources to domestic concerns. Senior Ministry of Defense officials have warned us privately that the Bulgarian government may be planning to reduce military expenditures from approximately 2.5% of GDP to 2.1% or lower over the coming years. This makes the prioritization of modernization projects and careful allocation of scarce resources even more critical for Bulgaria. The Council of Ministers has set 31 December as the deadline for this review, a very short timeline for such a complicated process, guaranteed to stir controversy among the Bulgarian armed services and within the ruling coalition.
3. (S) 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.
4. (S) I. Deployability: 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. Additional funds must also be allocated to cover increased personnel and salary costs associated with foreign missions. The short to mid-term goal would be to increase the number of deployable ground forces to one brigade, capable of rotating battalions through six-month deployments. The longer-term goal would be three deployable brigades, with the capability to deploy and sustain at least one infantry battalion for up to six months with minimal outside assistance.
5. (S) II. Reduce Waste: Bulgaria should be encouraged to realize savings through elimination of defense elements that are ineffective or incompatible with multilateral missions, such as its two submarines and an outdated Russian Surface-to-Air missile system estimated to cost over $20 million a year. Consolidation of redundant bases and facilities should also be considered. SOFIA 00001271 002 OF 003
6. (S) III. Avoid Budget-Busting Mega-Procurements: 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. (See reftel A.)
7. (S) IV. Maintain Niche Capabilities: Bulgaria currently has three 5-member military medical teams in Afghanistan and a 42-person engineering unit in Kosovo. The United States has asked for an additional 40 engineers to Iraq by January 2008. (See reftel B.) While encouraging Bulgaria to maintain, and if possible increase, investments in these capabilities, and to a limited extent, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) capabilities, we view the development of new niche capabilities as secondary to the primary goal of increased deployability of combat troops.
RECOMMENDATIONS BY SERVICE
8. (S) Army: Encourage planners to fence off funds for requirements essential to overseas deployments, such as armored vehicles, body armor, training, personal gear and communications equipment. Advocate for funding in this area based on the principle that money spent on training and equipment for their ground forces will have a greater and more immediate impact on deployability than money spent on expensive new fighters or ships. The General Staff should limit near-term communications procurements to equipment that can immediately increase interoperability of deployed forces. Investments in strategic communications equipment should, in the near term, be focused on those required to communicate with deployed forces. To counter the legitimate risk that new deployments will be canceled or postponed due to lack of funds, it is essential that additional resources be set aside for personnel and salary costs (such as combat bonuses, etc.) associated with foreign missions.
9. (S) Air Force: Theater lift capability will improve with the purchase of five C-27Js (one per year for the next five years with first delivery scheduled for Nov 07) and participation in the NATO C-17 consortium, but Bulgaria's current fighter force has reached the end of its useful life. Affordable, interoperable multi-role fighters are necessary for them to continue to police their airspace, but it is important to advocate for systems to which they can quickly transition. 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.
10. (S) Navy: We will continue to caution Bulgaria against a massive expenditure on French Corvettes (at least over the short to mid-term), and advocate used ships of intermediate capability that can handle the range of missions the Bulgarian Navy might reasonably be expected to perform. Bulgaria should be encouraged to consider the purchase of a second, used Wielingen class frigate from Belgium as a short to mid-term solution and urged to consider termination of its submarine program as a possible area for cost savings.
11. (S) Comment: The upcoming revision of "Plan 2015" presents a valuable opportunity to shape Bulgaria's future force structure and military capabilities, but the relatively SOFIA 00001271 003 OF 003 short timelines offer only a narrow window for coordination. We want to ensure that we are part of this process and that we deliver a clear and unified U.S. message. Key contacts within the Ministry of Defense see U.S. and NATO guidance in the revision process as vital to ensuring a productive and affordable outcome; without our input they are concerned that political interests will trump military requirements. These contacts have offered to help ensure a U.S. voice in the process and to share inside information on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering. With the points above we hope to ensure that we speak to the Bulgarians with a unified voice, and we welcome input or suggestions from Washington, EUCOM or NATO. We look forward to the upcoming visit of GEN McKiernan and recommend a visit by Ambassador Nuland before year's end to reinforce themes of interoperability and deployability at the highest military and political levels here.