WARSAW, Poland — As Russia becomes increasingly determined to project its military power over the Black Sea, Romania and Bulgaria are accelerating programs to modernize their armed forces and replace Soviet-designed gear with Western-made weapons and equipment.
With the largest defense contracts in both countries’ history underway, Bucharest and Sofia face the challenge to boost military expenditure after years of underinvestment.
“The year 2014 was a turning point for the security of the Black Sea region," George Scutaru, a member of Parliament for Romania’s National Liberal Party and the director for development at the Bucharest-based New Strategy Center think tank, told Defense News.
"Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, the rapid increase of Russia’s A2/AD capabilities in the region, prompted Romania to take concrete measures to increase its deterrence and defense capabilities,” he added. “Increasing naval capabilities is another major objective for Romania.”
The acronym A2/A2 is short for “anti-access, aerial denial.” It describes defensive military measures aimed at keeping enemy forces as far away as possible from locations so tactically important that their occupation could decide the outcome of a battle.
As part of its efforts to counter such moves by would-be adversary Russia, the Romanian government in July announced it will purchase four new Gowind corvettes from a consortium of France’s Naval Group and its Romanian partner, local shipbuilder Santierul Naval Constanta.
Under the €1.2 billion (U.S. $1.3 billion) deal, the companies will also upgrade the Romanian Navy’s two Type 22 frigates — the F-221 Regina Maria and the F-222 Regele Ferdinand — as well as build a maintenance facility and a training center.
“Romania also wants to buy anti-ship missile launchers," Scutaru said. “Another objective of Romania will be to strengthen the [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capabilities in the Black Sea. In this way, Romania wants to show determination in the process of increasing its own defense capabilities, thus contributing to NATO’s effort to discourage Russian actions in the Black Sea region.”
Romania’s defense wish list is topped by its acquisition of Raytheon-made Patriot air and missile defense systems under a deal worth as much as $3.9 billion, and its purchase of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) from Lockheed Martin for $1.25 billion.
Scutaru said that Bucharest has also requested 54 Lockheed Martin-made HIMARS launchers for three systems and 81 unitary variants of the GMLRS. The lawmaker added that the government “continues to pursue the acquisition of F-16 [fighter jets] to complement its existing air-retaliatory capability.”
Bulgaria eyes fighters, armored vehicles
Russian activity in Ukraine has also impacted Bulgaria’s defense policy, boosting military acquisitions higher on the political agenda, local analysts say.
“Bulgaria considers that the destabilization of the region and the illegal annexation of the Crimea lead to a permanent violation of the geostrategic and military balance in the Black Sea region,” Tsvetan Tsvetkov, an associate professor at the department of national and regional security of the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, told Defense News.
Bulgaria is also determined to upgrade its air force, with plans to replace outdated Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jets with Western aircraft, most likely Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 fighter jets. The planned acquisition of eight aircraft was approved by both the Council of Ministers and the Bulgarian Parliament’s Defence Committee, a deal estimated to be worth about $1.3 billion, paving the way for the largest foreign defense contract since the country regained its independence in 1989.
The planned purchase has been a source of discord among the country’s decision-makers. In late July, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev vetoed the deal, claiming a broader debate was necessary on the acquisition terms.
The president said Bulgarian lawmakers should discuss and evaluate the terms of the proposed contract, including the price, delivery schedule, and unspecified logistics and training fees. The country’s parliament overturned the veto on July 26 by a majority of 128 votes, with 73 lawmakers against and three abstentions.
Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Defence Ministry has requested offers for the supply of 150 armored vehicles from four Europe-based manufacturers under a deal worth about $840 million. These include Germany’s ARTEC, Finland’s Patria, France’s Nexter Group and Swiss-based General Dynamics Land Systems-MOWAG.
Bids are to be submitted by Oct. 31, and an interdepartmental task force is expected to select the tender’s winner by Dec. 20, the ministry said in a statement.