Bulgarian Corvette Deal Sunk By Second-Hand Frigates
“Bulgaria Orders 4 Gowind-200 Frigates from DCNS” seemed to herald both a EUR 900 million order and a new shipbuilding center for DCNS. Despite promises of 100% industrial offsets to the Varna shipyard, and a price that was reportedly lowered to EUR 780 million, Bulgaria’s defence minister Vesselin Bliznakov recently announced that Bulgaria’s government could not afford the deal. Instead, Bulgaria will buy 3 upgraded ships from Belgium for only EUR 54 million, payable over 8 years. The ships are 2 frigates (almost certainly the Wielingen and the Westdiep, both commissioned in January 1978), and a minesweeper of the Tripartite Class.
“The ships are in a good state and fitted out according to NATO Standard” said Bliznakov, who has the difficult job of overseeing force modernization to NATO standards in a relatively poor country, even if it is one of the only NATO countries to spend above 2% of GDP on defense. The saved funds will apparently be diverted to other platform modernization efforts, and the first frigate is scheduled to be delivered in the summer of 2008. Sofia News Agency | Gazet Van Antwerpen | DID thanks our intrepid Benelux reader David Vandenberghe for his tip and translation assistance.
The 2,283t Wielingen Class [GlobalSecurity | Photo album] is armed with a 100mm cannon, Sea Sparrow anti-air missiles, Exocet anti-ship missiles, plus torpedoes and depth charges. Bulgaria already operates an upgraded second-hand frigate of this type, after buying it from Belgium in 2005 for EUR 23 million and renaming it from Wandelaar to Drazki (“Intrepid”). This follow-on deal will make Bulgaria the sole operator of the Wielingen Class, as the 4th ship of class Westhinder was stricken from the rolls in 1993 and scrapped.
Aug 4/10: Bulgaria’s government recently allocated BGN 256 million (about $174 million) from the country’s fiscal reserve in order to complete a number of arms deals, lest it find key defense items repossessed. The 2 frigates and minehunter have already been transferred to the Bulgarian Navy, but the country still owes Belgium about EUR 1 million (about 1.95 million Bulgarian Levs) from the payment that it was supposed to make in 2009. Read “Bulgaria’s Finances Squeezing Existing Arms Deals” for more.
Oct 12/09: Bulgaria’s Sofia News Agency reports that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had to cancel the Gowind deal during a meeting with French PM Francois Fillon. Worse, the Belgian frigate deal hasn’t quite gone according to Hoyle:
“Borisov said the commitment made by the three-party coalition government for the purchase of the French corvettes is not feasible at the moment because the country’s previous rulers not only did not slate any money in the budget for such splurge, but Bulgaria now faces the need of BGN 150-160 M [DID: up to EUR 82 million/ $120 million] to repair the Belgium frigates bought by the “Stanishev” cabinet.
The Bulgarian PM pointed out his predecessors forecast an unimaginable, unfounded 4,7% budget surplus in times when the world is rocked by a recession… Borisov said he expected a stronger reaction on the part of the French PM and was pleased with Fillon’s understanding. The French PM is quoted as saying that both countries are part of a larger European family and he understood and accepted Bulgaria’s hardships.”
July 18/08: Belgium has concluded the sale of 3 navy vessels to Bulgaria. Some administrative paperwork still has to be finalized.
July 14/08: French ambassador to Bulgaria Etienne de Poncins reveals that DCNS/Armaris has applied for the privatization of the Bulgarian Defence Ministry’s Terem – KRZ Naval Arsenal shipyard in Varna. Rumors place the level of investment in the shipyard at EUR 500 million if DCNS succeeds. Sofia Echo | Sofia News Agency | Focus News, Bulgaria.
July 4/08: Never understimate the power of diplomacy. Despite previous refusals to re-open the issue, Bulgaria has provisionally agreed to buy 2 Gowind corvettes instead of 4. The decision comes during a visit by French President Sarkozy that includes the signing of a wider strategic partnership between the 2 nations. Alex Bivol of the Sofia Echo draws a second connection, however: the impending EC report re: Bulgarian progress in tackling organized crime, and over EUR 500 million in frozen EC funding to Bulgaria. Sofia Echo report | Focus News, Bulgaria | Reuters | China’s Xinhua.