site.btaDefence Minister on Middle East Crisis, Service Members’ Pay, Ukraine Aid, F-16

Defence Minister on Middle East Crisis, Service Members’ Pay, Ukraine Aid, F-16
Defence Minister on Middle East Crisis, Service Members’ Pay, Ukraine Aid, F-16
Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov (BTA Photo)

Interviewed on bTV on Sunday evening, Bulgarian caretaker Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov answered questions concerning the Middle East crisis, Bulgarian service members' pay, the aid for Ukraine, and the progress of the project to acquire F-16 jet fighters for the Bulgarian Air Force.

Zapryanov said that Bulgaria does not face a direct military threat and does not change its armed forces' alert status in the wake of Iran's drone and missile attack against Israel on Saturday night. "We continue to monitor the situation. Bulgaria's and NATO's air defence system is on normal mode," he pointed out.

"Israel will not respond that directly, it will opt for other methods, but will continue impacting all proxies around the country," Zapryanov commented. He does not expect the Middle East situation to escalate to a full-scale war between Iran and Israel.

The Defence Minister hopes that the 30% pay rise for the military, proposed by the parliamentary groups, will be a fact in early 2025. He argued that the personnel are currently underpaid for their training and qualities. Zapryanov specified that a solider draws BGN 1,450 monthly and a lieutenant a little over BGN 1,800.

He expects Bulgaria to have eight F-16s and 14 trained pilots for them by the end of 2025, as agreed with the US. Seven of the Bulgarian aircraft are already on the assembly line, which means that three of them will be completed by the end of 2024. Until March 2025, they will remain in the US to be used to train two more pilots and 84 technicians. Three more jet fighters will be delivered to Bulgaria in the second quarter of 2025, and the remaining two will be available by the end of next year.

The caretaker Minister said that training an F-16 pilot costs at least some USD 2 million.

Zapryanov admitted that the modernization of the Graf Ignatievo Air Base, where the F-16s are to be stationed, is behind schedule but insisted that efforts are being made to catch up with the complete overhaul of the facility.

The Minister said that two aid packages will be sent to Ukraine. The Defence Ministry is not alone to be blamed for the dispatch of the first one, under a Bulgarian government decision of November 2023, because there is an international coordination centre for aid to Ukraine, he explained. Bulgarian financing and procedures will be used for the second aid package, which was approved in March 2024, so as to speed up delivery in every way, Zapryanov said. "Everything planned under the [earlier] first and second packages and the APCs has already arrived in Ukraine and has been handed over to their military," he added.

In his opinion, Bulgaria provides substantial aid to Ukraine by the standards of its capabilities and surplus stocks.

The Defence Minister reiterated that Bulgarian soldiers by no means will fight in Ukraine. "The commitment of Bulgarian soldiers to fight anywhere outside the country’s territory requires a resolution of the Bulgarian Parliament," Zapryanov recalled.

Asked to comment on possible calls for withdrawal from NATO during the campaign for the June 9 elections, the Minister emphasized that such a step would be "a catastrophe" because in such case, in order to guarantee its military security and territorial integrity, Bulgaria will need to quadruple the numerical strength of its armed forces, from 43,000 to 120,000, and will have to increase its defence spending from BGN 4 billion to BGN 12 billion.

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By 00:26 on 26.05.2024 Today`s news

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