Romania and Bulgaria are in desperate need of modernising their naval fleets
Romania and Bulgaria, two of NATOs youngest members, are in desperate need of modernising their naval fleets – broadly a result of security sector deterioration in the Black Sea region.
Replacing legacy and obsolete vessels with modern, multirole Western made platforms will be a costly and timely challenge, which, governments of both countries can no longer dither over.
Unfortunately the modernisation process has consistently been mismanaged by decision-makers in Sofia and Bucharest, prone to changing their procurement goals and technical requirements and ultimately delaying the long-awaited acquisitions.
The Bulgarian Navy continues to struggle with its operational limitations, resulting from the age, technical condition and obsolescence of currently operated naval platforms, as the country’s MoD proceeds at a slow pace with the ongoing tender for delivery of two multipurpose OPVs.
The outcome of the procurement programme was expected to be announced this summer, but due to insufficient funding has been prolonged until the end of 2019, at the earliest.
The Bulgarian tender sparked broad interest among a number of European shipyards, with three parties deciding to submit bids: the local MTG Dolphin which proposed the latest version of its K-90 vessel, Italian Fincantieri, which entered the race with a modified Abu Dhabi-class corvette design as well as the German Lürssen with a platform based on its OPV 80/85/90 series.
An interdepartmental committee, composed of experts from the Navy’s Command, MoD as well as the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, is said to have already concluded evaluation of received offers, and selected the preferred bidder.
Conclusions are due to be presented to the council of ministers of the Bulgarian government, which is expected to approve the MoD’s suggestions and allow for the start of contract negotiations.
It is also expected that talks with the preferred bidder will commence this autumn, allowing for an agreement to be reached by the end of 2019, followed by a contract signing shortly after.
However, dependent on other manufacturers lodging formal protests and potential re-evaluations of submitted bids, further delay of the project could result.
According to current estimates, the first of Bulgaria’s new OPVs could be delivered by the end of 2023, with the second arriving the following year.
The project’s budget is set at 820 million Lev ($470 million), with payments to an industry contractor spread over several years – allowing for the MoD to make adequate appropriations for other urgent procurement programmes, like the planned acquisition of 150 wheeled armoured vehicles, which has been delayed for many years.
As much as the procurement of new OPVs should significantly enhance operational capabilities of the Bulgarian Navy, it won’t however significantly change the current balance of military power in the Black Sea region.
A much more likely development to bring about such a shift is the Romanian effort to finalise the technical modernisation programme of its naval forces, which calls for procurement of four modern, multirole corvettes and upgrade of two ex-British Type 22 frigates.
At the beginning of July, the Romanian MoD announced that it had selected Naval Group as the preferred bidder in the tender for delivery of new corvettes. The deal, which would lead to the construction of four Gowind based platforms under the transfer of technology agreement, has a value of €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion).
However, reaching the final agreement might be prevented by the Dutch Damen Group, one of the rejected bidders, which contested the results of the tender and lodged a formal complaint at the Romanian National Council for Solving Complaints and the Bucharest Tribunal.
The evaluation of Damen’s request could take several months to resolve.
In the meantime, the Romanian MoD intends to continue negotiations with Naval Group and expects that by the time the Tribunal announces results of its findings, the agreement with the French manufacturer will be reached and the deal will be ready to sign. [end]