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State, Challenges and Prospects of Modern Military Reforming in the Republic of Bulgaria

October 31, 2013
<p>State, Challenges and Prospects of Modern Military Reforming in the Republic of Bulgaria</p>

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Andrey Pospelov, Candidate of historical sciences, Professor of the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of Odessa I. Mechnikov National University.

State, Challenges and Prospects of Modern Military Reforming in the Republic of Bulgaria. Part 1

Among all European post-socialist countries military reforms in the Republic of Bulgaria by most parameters can be considered the most successful. Since 1991 this country in 3 phases (1991-1997, 1998-2003, 2004-2010) has managed to solve the main problems related to security sector transformation into the new economic and geopolitical realities. Indeed, the Bulgarian Armed Forces have been reduced from 117.500 to 34.500 servicemen and basically translated into a contract. Many heavy weapons, especially of the offensive character (in 2003 - all complexes of tactical and operational-tactical ballistic missiles) have been withdrawn from service. Almost completely Bulgarian Army and Navy have turned to NATO standards, and the Bulgaria itself has actively got involved in international peacekeeping operations.

Bulgaria (2007)
Bulgaria (2007). Bulgarian Armed Forces  were shifting to contract manning gradually. Moreover, the period of transition depended on the type of forces: first professionals became pilots and sailors (2006), and two years later was finally canceled the calling up for military service. The last recruits went to the Army units at the end of 2007, and they had to serve only 9 months. http://topwar.ru/

However, the events of recent years show that military reforming and the subsequent transformation of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria into a compact structure that would fully meet modern challenges, have faced considerable difficulties. However, the Bulgarian military-political leadership has not only halted the process, but also found the opportunity to correct them, in the opposite direction included. It is unique not only for the countries of the former Soviet space, but also in terms of NATO-member countries.

Financial and staff problems and ways of their solution

Construction and development of the armed forces of the Republic of Bulgaria is going on in accordance with 5 annual plans, the last of which — “The plan of the development of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria for 2010-2014” was adopted by the People's Assembly of the country on the 29th of December, 2010. Its main conceptual foundations were also laid down in the “White Book on Defence and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria 2010” and the Doctrine of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria of 2011.

These statutory and theoretical documents provide further deepening of the military reform in the country until 2014. The main direction for further modernization of the security sector in Bulgaria is completing of organizational-staff modernization of the Bulgarian Army, Air Force and Navy.

For this a special body was created — the Joint Commandment of Forces — a sole system of commandment and control of the Armed Forces at the operational level both in peacetime and in crisis situations. The latter is understood by the Bulgarian military and political leadership not as a full-scale war, but the actions that could paralyze, even for not a long time, the normal operation of the state as a whole or some of its institutions in particular.

Since April 2004 Bulgaria has been a full member of NATO
 Since April 2004 Bulgaria has been a full member of NATO. It became a member of the Alliance within the framework of the most ambitious enlargement of the Alliance. Together with Bulgaria, NATO was joined  by  Latvia, Lithuania, Romania , Slovakia and Slovenia. http://нато.рф/ru/

In fact, the Armed Forces have three main tasks: 1). The defense, which, first of all, they should not perform on their own, but together with other NATO members under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty of 1949 (Treaty establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), 2). Maintenance of international peace and security, which is planned to be performed within the framework of NATO, EU, UN and OSCE's operations exclusively outside Bulgaria, 3). Ensuring national security in peacetime. The latter task is nearly the only one to be performed almost entirely by national forces. It provides, first of all, immediate warning about real or potential threats to the country and protecting its strategic assets and citizens.

To fulfill the above-mentioned, Bulgaria gave up a numerous and powerful Army, Air Force and Navy that existed at the time of the People's Republic of Bulgaria and were an excessive burden on the national budget. To a large extent this decision was caused by both, the changed geopolitical situation around the country and the change of Bulgaria's strategic priorities. This applies especially to Turkey and to a lesser extent Greece having stopped being potential opponents of Bulgaria. Since March 29, 2004, when the Republic of Bulgaria joined NATO, it almost entirely borders on allied or friendly states, which fact has led to a change of the strategy of its national security.

Flag raising ceremony in honor of Bulgaria's joining  NATO. NATO HQ, April 2, 2004 © NATO
 Flag raising ceremony in honor of Bulgaria's joining  NATO. NATO HQ, April 2, 2004 © NATO http://www.nato.int/

Meanwhile, having joined NATO, Bulgaria has undertaken certain obligations which it must fulfill. First of all it concerns one of the core requirements of NATO —to have a defense budget at the level of at least 2% of Gross Domestic Product (without spending on the military industry). For Bulgaria this requirement is challenging. Indeed, in the post-socialist period its Armed Forces have been permanently underfinanced. However, the government tried to reach an appropriate level of funding, and in 2007 the figure was 1.98 %.

However, the economic and financial situation in the country as early as 2009 was such that the figure was unattainable. The reasons for inaccessibility are objective. The country did not have enough funds for at least basic measures for the military reform. All this led to changes in the funding strategy of the Armed Forces. In 2011, the Bulgarian military budget amounted to 1.27% of GDP, in 2012 — to 1.3 %, in 2013 — 1.38 %. According to the plans of the Bulgarian military and political leadership, only in 2017 — not sooner, or in 2020 — not later, the country will come to 1.5% or more.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev http://obozrevatel.com/

After all, this is just the top of the iceberg. In July 2013 President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev said, “The budget of our Army is not compatible with NATO standards, mostly by such indexes as expenditure on staff (75% — the author's note) and expenditure on technical re-equipment and weapons (5% — the author's note). In Bulgaria expenditures on staff are larger than in other NATO countries. This means that if decrease is terminated, the costs of staff will increase even more”.

That is why the government and the military leadership of Bulgaria compensate the problems of financing with further intensification of efforts to change organizational structure of the Armed Forces and to reduce their numbers. And if the former is generally supported by both, professionals and the Bulgarian community, the latter does not suit everybody.

Bulgarian Defence Minister Anju Angelov
 Bulgarian Defence Minister Anju Angelov http://telegrafist.org/

Thus, from 2009 to 2014 the staff of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria was supposed to be reduced from 42 to 26 thousand people (including civilian personnel). In 2010, Bulgaria's Defense Minister Anyu Angelov mentioned that in 2014 the Armed Forces will include 24.000 people. Indeed, the country is steadily moving towards these figures. Already in 2011 Bulgaria had an Army of over 35.9 thousand people.

However, in 2010-2013, in the country at an informal level there has been a discussion about the real size of the armed forces for Bulgaria. A number of military experts, including representatives of the General Staff of the Republic of Bulgaria, actively criticized the government for actual and unjustifiable “disarmament” of the Bulgarian Army and Air Force. They and civilian experts, especially in electronic media, criticized the figure of 24-26 thousand of the military in the future Bulgarian Army. In their opinion, even under the new geopolitical and geostrategic terms, Bulgaria should have Armed Forces of at least 60.000 people. At this, the main task of the national Army should be the function of defense within 10-15 days after the invasion of an enemy on the territory of Bulgaria. The number of national Armed Forces (less than 40.000 servicemen) theoretically will not allow Bulgaria to resist even for 5 days — the time which, under Article 3 of the Agreement on the Collective Defense of NATO, should be enough to involve in action the United contingents of the Alliance.

Odessa branch of the Greek Foundation for Culture held a lecture: “On the Balkan War 100 Years Later.”

October 2012 is the 100th anniversary since the start of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. (1st Balkan War (October 1912 - May 1913 ) , the 2nd Balkan War (June - October 1913 ). For the world community of the early twentieth century, these two wars had become truly iconic events, which by some researchers are estimated only as a sort of prototype of the First World War of 1914 – 1918s. But far more important the Balkan wars were for the Balkan peoples  themselves- Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Albania. Albania, according to their results, gained its independence, and the borders of Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire) in Europe were established almost as they are now . Extremely seriously the Balkan wars were perceived in Russia (then Russian Empire), many of which subjects voluntarily and massively took part in them on the side of the Balkan Orthodox residents

Speaker: Andrew S. Pospelov, Ph.D., assistant Professor of the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of the Odessa Mechnikov National University

https://www.facebook.com/events/185239881612600/

 

Monument to the 3rd  Bdin Infantry Regiment on the central square in Vidin. 100th anniversary of the Balkan Wars

 Monument to the 3rd  Bdin Infantry Regiment on the central square in Vidin. 100th anniversary of the Balkan Wars http://bnr.bg

Such a discussion, coupled with the relatively poor economic situation in the country, caused a great publicity. It particularly rose in the autumn of 2012, when Bulgaria was marking the 100th anniversary of the Balkan wars. In the jubilee biennium (2012-2013) Bulgarian society was forced to consider Greece, Turkey and Serbia, not as allies and friendly states, but as potential enemies. It also drew attention to the very poor state of affairs in the personnel policy of the Armed Forces. In 2012 alone, 1.390 people left the Armed Forces voluntarily and another 1.607 were dismissed or transferred to other positions in other power departments. Moreover, the set of frames in units and subunits accounted for only 70% of soldiers and 89 % of officers. In fact, the Bulgarian government called the state of the Armed Forces catastrophic.

In this publicity Bulgarian government temporarily suspended reduction of the Armed Forces, leaving their number at 34.5 million people (including 21.000 in the Army). Government leaders did not neglect staffing the Army under the Law of Universal Conscription. Although for nearly ten years calling up for military service had not been the main, so to speak, principle of the Armed Forces, but as it had not been canceled, demonstrated commitment of the Bulgarian political and military leaders to conduct a military reform so that it would be beneficial primarily for the Bulgarian society, rather than meeting temporary international trends.

Strange as it might seem, but the “jubilee biennium”— 2012-2013 — activated such an aspect of the Bulgarian military reform as creation of a functioning organizational reserve. In March 2012 National Assembly of Bulgaria adopted the Law on Reserve of the Armed Forces, which, due to internal political reasons had not been adopted since 2004. First the attitude to it was pretty, so to speak, “infantile”. However, the effect of the new Law was sped up by Bulgarian… historians. In their writings on the actual “anniversary” issues they cited figures of mobilization deployment of the Army of the country during both, the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, and especially during the First World War. And these figures did impress — 800.000 people, or 40 % of the country's population. The greatest figure in history. And at this, the second Balkan war and the First World War Bulgaria lost, primarily due to its prewar being unready. Today's realities have shown the Bulgarian society where theoretically can end (and ended radical military reforming). Bulgaria, theoretically having a modern army, in principle, was not prepared to repel a foreign attack.

Very soon it became clear that the provided by the “Plan for the Development of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria for 2010-2014” 3.500 reservists is not enough not only strategically, but also for social reasons. As early as 2012 about 3.600 persons went through reservists' trainings and in the first half of 2013 — 2.800. In fact, the Ministry of Defence of Bulgaria in the current situation can expect more than 15.000 people of the ready reserve. It is capable organized permanent reserve, just occupying its niche in the structure of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria that actually covers the shortage of staff in Army units.

“Moral” support for the Armed Forces of Bulgaria from the society of the country in the situation of their rating having powered to 36 %, had a positive impact on the motivation of citizens to service. Because of this, the universal conscription, though from time to time it is subject to criticism, but constantly provides national Army and Navy with at least soldiers. Together with the increase of material and social welfare of the personnel, this has led to a growth of military discipline and responsibility at all levels of the national Armed Forces. Yes, it was this that allowed the country's military leadership to activate the campaign for getting students for higher and secondary military schools. In 2012 alone there were 4 extra sets.

As a result, public support for the Armed Forces and presence of a certain military contingent allowed the Ministry of Defence of Bulgaria to pay more attention to further modernization of their organizational structure as the basis of military reform. Reducing the number of organizational and staff units and their weapons and equipment has saved the money that was spent on improving combat training. Thus, while in 2011 of all planned trainings only 95 % were held, in 2012 the figure reached 100 %, and by some parameters of military training (parachute jumping, flights of Naval aviation, etc.) it made 130 %.

Organizational–staff transformations

Organizational-staff structure of the Armed Forces in general and of individual units and subunits in particular, is the most responsible stage of any military reforms. For Bulgaria this aspect was socially and historically very important, because there was a change not only of the structure of the Armed Forces, but also of the whole paradigm of national defense as was being determined the modernized Army, Air Force and Navy's role and place in it.

Thus, before Bulgaria's joining NATO, the paradigm or its national security strategy had changed twice. For the first time since autumn 1989, when on the waves of political changes in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the world socialist system and democratization of the former “Soviet bloc” countries, political leadership of Bulgaria refused to fulfill the tasks of counteracting NATO's on the northern strategic direction and began a gradual reduction of the Armed Forces. At this, reforms hardly touched their main striking element - Missile Forces. Thanks to this, the Socialist Bulgaria's system of defense, which consisted of three armies (respectively for the Turkish and Greek operational directions and the Reserve one, located in the north of the country) had not undergone fundamental structural changes.

In Bulgaria begins to work the NATO Crisis Management Centre
 In Bulgaria begins to work the NATO Crisis Management Centre http://нато.рф/

Since 1998, continued the so-called “People's Reform”, which not only significantly accelerated the reduction but liquidated the existing structure of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria and their main armament. Then it was thought that including through such steps Bulgaria soon would enter the European Community and the North Atlantic Alliance. In 2004, the country did join NATO, but its leadership faced another question — what functions will the national Armed Forces perform? In fact, before 2004 they had been an amorphous and hardly fighting-fit structure.

Financial aid and advice of experts from the NATO member-states let Bulgaria re-equip its Armed Forces. But the tasks now have become more or less concrete —participation in joint operations of the Bloc. For this the country needed compact, professional and highly mobile Armed Forces. Since a number of economic and social problems then forced the leadership of Bulgaria and its Defense Ministry to focus primarily at staffing issues, development of the future organizational structure of the Armed Forces started only in 2009. The planned by 2014 changes of the organizational staff structure of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria were completed in 2012-13 years. And in some ways they were overfulfilled. At this, at the moment the upgrading of the organizational-staff structure of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria has moved from strategic and operational to the tactical level.

Thus, the basis of the defense is a Bulgarian Army. According to the concept of 2010, at the beginning of 2014 it will consist of the following units and subunits located in 14 garrisons and 28 military zones (instead of 17 and 30 respectively, which were in 2010):

- Brigades: 2nd and 61st Mechanized (instead of four regular and one reserve as it was at the beginning of 2010);

- Regiments: 4th Artillery, 55th Engineer, 68th Special Operations and 110th Logistics;

- Battalions: 1st Reconnaissance (instead of the Regiment), 3rd Separate Mechanized (new), 38th Protection against weapons of mass destruction (instead of Regiment) and 78th Psychological Operations (instead of company);

- Two Training Centers (instead of one and two centers for repairs and storage of weapons and military equipment) and one training ground “Koren” (instead of two).

About 50 million US dollars were spent on construction of facilities at the training site “Novo Selo” near the town of Sliven In 2008-2009
 About 50 million US dollars were spent on construction of facilities at the training site “Novo Selo” near the town of Sliven In 2008-2009. http://www.capital.bg/

Meanwhile, the Commandment of the Armed Forces of Bulgaria has not shut the wonderfully equipped ground “Novo Selo (“New Village”). It has retained the status of not only the country's largest center for training ground forces and aviation, but also became the main training base within the framework of the launched by the United States in 2007 program, Joint Task Force - East. In fact, the ground “Novo Selo” has become one of the centers for training NATO's troops.

Constant trainings and participation in peacekeeping operations, especially in Afghanistan, forced military authorities of Bulgaria to reconsider some concept of using ground forces. As a result, in mid-2011 was developed the structure of a new tactical unit – Battalion Combat Team (BCT). All in all, by the end of 2014, are supposed to be created 6 such BCTs, the first of which will get the combat-ready status in late 2013.

According to information published in Bulgaria, BCT is planned as a universal unit that can perform almost all functions of defense, attack, protection of the rear, and, besides, it will be able to be used in peacekeeping, counter-terrorism and Police operations. One of the main tasks of BCT will be civil defense, and all this — with use of standard weapons. Really BCT is considered as the basis for new mobile ground forces, but as something that complements the existing staff structure. So whether BCT will replace standard mechanized battalions in brigades, or simply complement - is not clear yet. If the reform of the Army goes according to the first variant, at the end of 2014 we'll have the opportunity to contemplate the theoretical (training) and practical (operations) actions of the combat structure of the entirely new type. As for the second variant, we can surely talk about a real increase of capabilities of the Bulgarian Army through its universalization, increasing capacity and mobility.

By the way, trainings carried out in recent years have shown another direction for reforming organizational-staff structure of the Bulgarian Army — returning to the Army and Navy of Marine Battalions. Its concept has not yet been approved. However, the Bulgarian military Commanders do not exclude that soon it will be developed.

The Air Force of Bulgaria in early 2013 moved to the new structure, which provides preserving only 9 (instead of 19 in 2010) organizational and staff units: Commandment, two air bases, forward deployment base, anti-aircraft missile base (all in all five anti-aircraft missile battalions), the Commandment's base, control and surveillance, base of special equipment and a company of the military Police. Moreover, the Bulgarian Air Force will have only five airfields: “Graf Ignatievo” (fighters) Bezmer (fighter-bombers), Dolna Mitropoliya (training aircraft), “Krumovo” (helicopters) and Vrazhdebna (transport aircrafts)

Israeli fighter “Kfir C.60” with identification marks of the Bulgarian Air Force during testing at the air base “Graf Ignatievo.”
 Israeli fighter “Kfir C.60” with identification marks of the Bulgarian Air Force during testing at the air base “Graf Ignatievo.” http://www.flickriver.com/

Plans for the nearest future include preservation by the Air Force permanently of only three airfields: “Graf Ignatievo” (fighters and training aircrafts) “Bezmer” (destroyers and planes of other NATO countries, conducting trainings at the territory of Bulgaria and flying over its territory), and “Krumovo” (transport aircrafts and helicopters). In fact, it will fir in the existing structure of the Air Force with three air bases.

However, such changes should not be considered too radical. Since 2010 the Ministry of Defence of Bulgaria has been officially controlling purchase by national airlines of the country of passenger and cargo aircrafts as the Air Force Reserve. Because of this, their basing on existing capital airfields, which were transferred by the Ministry of Defence to civilian organizations, involves preserving the appropriate infrastructure on them, which is a real positive in case of emergencies or mobilization deployment. In fact, the Bulgarian Air Force's in its steps to reduce air bases, is trying to adopt the well-tested Israeli system whereby airbases of the country are not only a place for aircraft basing, but training centers and mobile collection points and special units. The latter completely suits conceptual foundations of the use of Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria in coalition operations - in the first place.

Navy has also undergone changes in Bulgaria, but not all those that were planned in 2010. Thus, the anticipated reduction in operational fleet units — battalions from 6 to 3 which should comply the number of ships in the country in the future - 6 battleships, 6 ships of combat support and 5 auxiliary vessels. The first step in this direction was the elimination of the underwater part of Bulgarian Navy, to which was allocated to 20% of the budget of the Navy. In November 2011, from the country's Navy was removed the last submarine 84 “Slava” (Soviet Project 633).

However, this structure did not meet the minimal needs of not only the defense of the country from the sea, but it did not fit into the new concept of the Bulgarian Navy, which since 2010 consists of two components: Constant Combat Readiness Forces and Area (Coastal) Defence. That is why only administrative units were reduced. Instead of 2 naval bases Varna and Burgas (Atia), there was established a sea base with two points of basing in these ports. Each of them has kept 3 divisions (patrol ships, minesweepers and auxiliary ships).

To be continued...

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