A pair of BAF MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters at dusk
|Service branches||Bulgarian land forces
Bulgarian Air Force
|Headquarters||Part of the Ministry of Defence|
|Commander-in-Chief||President of Bulgaria Georgi Parvanov|
|Minister of Defence||Lt. Gen. Anyu Angelov|
|Chief of the General Staff||General Simeon Simeonov|
|Military age||18 years of age|
|Conscription||No (abolished on January 1, 2008)|
|1,701,979, age 16-49 (2008 est.)|
|1,364,029, age 16-49 (2008 est.)|
|39,477 (2008 est.)|
|Active personnel||39,000 (ranked 72)|
|Deployed personnel||Afghanistan - 600|
|Budget||US dollar $1.190 billion (2009)|
|Percent of GDP||1.98% (2009)|
|Foreign suppliers|| United States
|Annual exports||€210,000,000 (2008)|
|History||Military history of Bulgaria|
The Bulgarian Army (Bulgarian: Българска армия) represents the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria. The Commander-in-Chief is the President of Bulgaria (currently Georgi Parvanov). The Ministry of Defense is in charge of political leadership while military command remains in the hands of the General Staff, headed by the Chief of Staff. There are three main branches - the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.
Throughout the nation's history, the army has played an important role in defending the country's sovereignty. Only several years after its liberation (1878), Bulgaria became a regional military power and got involed in several major wars - Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885), First Balkan War (1912-13), Second Balkan War (1913), First World War (1915-1919) and Second World War (1941-1944), during which the Army gained significant combat experience. During the Cold War the People's Republic of Bulgaria maintained one of the largest militaries in the Warsaw Pact, numbering an estimated 152,000 troops in 1988. Since the Fall of Communism, the country's political leadership decided to pursue a pro-NATO policy, thus reducing military personnel and weaponry. Bulgaria joined the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004, and currently maintains a 460-strong force in Afghanistan as part of ISAF.
The military of Bulgaria dates back to ancient times, including the armies of the Bolgar states in Asia, Old Great Bulgaria, Volga Bulgaria and finally, Danube Bulgaria, the only existing Bulgarian state nowadays. The leader of the military traditionally has been the khan, but after the First Bulgarian Empire converted to Christianity, the state was headed by a knyaz or tzar.
The Serbo-Bulgarian War was the first armed conflict after Bulgaria's liberation. It was a result of the unification with Eastern Rumelia, which happened on September 6, 1885. The unification was not completely recognized, however, and one of the countries which refused to recognize the act was the Kingdom of Serbia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had been expanding its influence in the Balkans and was particularly opposed. Serbia also feared this would diminish its dominance in the region. In addition, Serbia's ruler Milan Obrenović IV was annoyed that Serbian opposition leaders like Nikola Pašić, who had escaped persecution after the Timok Rebellion, had found asylum in Bulgaria. Lured by Austria-Hungary's promises for territorial gains from Bulgaria (in return for concessions in the Western Balkans), Milan IV declared war on Bulgaria on November 14, 1885. The military strategy relied largely on surprise, as Bulgaria had moved most of its troops near the border with the Ottoman Empire, in the southeast. As it happened, the Ottomans did not intervene and the Serbian army's advance was stopped after the Battle of Slivnitsa. The main body of the Bulgarian army traveled from the Ottoman border in the southeast to the Serbian border in the northwest to defend the capital Sofia. After the defensive battles at Slivnitsa and Vidin, Bulgaria began an offensive which took the city of Pirot. At this point, the Austro-Hungarian Empire stepped in, threatening to join the war on Serbia's side if the Bulgarian troops did not retreat. Fighting lasted for only 14 days, from November 14 to November 28. The peace treaty was signed in Bucharest on February 19, 1886. No territorial changes were made to either country, but the Bulgarian unification was recognized by the Great Powers. However, the relationship of trust and friendship between Serbia and Bulgaria, built during their long common fight against Ottoman rule, suffered irreparable damage.
The instability in the Balkan region in the early 1900s quickly became a precondition for a new war. Serbia's aspirations towards Bosnia and Herzegovina were thwarted by the Austrian annexation of the province in October 1908, and so the Serbs focused their attention onto their historic cradle, Kosovo and to the south for expansion. Greek officers, revolting in August 1909, had secured the appointment of a progressive government under Eleftherios Venizelos which they hoped would resolve the Cretan issue in Greece's favour and reverse their defeat of 1897 by the Ottomans. Bulgaria, which had secured Ottoman recognition of her independence in April 1909 and enjoyed the friendship of Russia, also looked to districts of Ottoman Thrace and Macedonia for expansion. In March 1910, an Albanian insurrection broke out in Kosovo. In August 1910, Montenegro followed Bulgaria's precedent by becoming a kingdom. In 1911, Italy launched an invasion of Tripolitania, which was quickly followed by the occupation of the Dodecanese Islands. The Italians' decisive military victories over the Ottoman Empire greatly influenced the Balkan states to prepare for war against Turkey. Thus in the spring of 1912, consultations between the various Christian Balkan nations resulted in a network of military alliances which became known as the Balkan League. The Great Powers, most notably France and Austria-Hungary, reacted to this diplomatic sensation by trying to dissuade the League from going to war, but failed. In late September, both the League and the Ottoman Empire mobilized their armies. Montenegro was the first to declare war, on September 25 (O.S.)/October 8. The other three states, after issuing an impossible ultimatum to the Porte on October 13, declared war on Turkey on October 17. The Balkan League relied on 700,000 troops, 370,000 of which were Bulgarians. Bulgaria, often dubbed "Prussia of the Balkans", was militarily the most powerful of the four states, with a large, well-trained and well-equipped army. The peacetime army of 60,000 men was expanded during the war to 370,000, with almost 600,000 men mobilized in total, out of a population of 4,300,000. The Bulgarian field army counted for 9 infantry divisions, 1 cavalry division and 1,116 artillery units. Commander-in-Chief was Tsar Ferdinand, while the actual command was in the hands of his deputy, General Michail Savov. The Bulgarians also possessed a small navy of six torpedo boats, which were restricted to operations along the country's Black Sea coast. Bulgaria's war aims were focused on Thrace and Macedonia. For the latter Bulgaria had a secret agreement with Serbia to divide it between them signed at 13 March 1912 during the negotiations that led to the establishment of the Balkan League. But it was not a secret that Bulgaria's target was the fulfilment of the never materialized Treaty of San Stefano signed after the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78. They deployed their main force in Thrace, forming three armies. The First Army, under general Vasil Kutinchev with 3 infantry divisions, was deployed to the south of Yambol, with direction of operations along the Tundzha river. The Second Army, under general Nikola Ivanov, with 2 infantry divisions and 1 infantry brigade, was deployed west of the First and was assigned to capture the strong fortress of Adrianopel (now Edirne). According to the plans, the third Army, under general Radko Dimitriev, was deployed east of and behind the First, and was covered by the cavalry division hiding it from the Turkish view. The Third Army had 3 infantry divisions and was assigned to cross the Stranja mountain and to take the fortress of Lozengrad (Kirk Kilisse). The 2nd and 7th divisions were assigned independent roles, operating in Western Thrace and eastern Macedonia respectively. The first great battles were at the Adrianople - Kirk Kilisse defensive line, where the Bulgarian 1st and 3rd Armies (together 110,000 men) defeated the Ottoman East Army (130,000 men) near Gechkenli, Seliolu and Petra. The fortress of Adrianople was besieged and Kirk Kilisse was taken without resistance under the pressure of the Bulgarian Third Army. The initial Bulgarian attack by First and Third Army defeated the Turkish forces, numbering some 130,000, and reached the Sea of Marmara. But the Turks, with the aid of fresh reinforcements from the Asian provinces, established their third and strongest defensive position at the Chataldja Line, across the peninsula where Constantinople is located. New Turkish forces landed at Bulair and Şarköy but after heavy fighting they were crushed and overthrown by the newly formed 4th Bulgarian army under the command of General Stilian Kovachev. The offensive at Chataldja failed too. On 11 March, the final Bulgarian assault on Adrianople began. Under the command of General Georgi Vazov the Bulgarians, reinforced with two Serb divisions, conquered the "untakable" city. On 17/30 May a peace treaty was signed between Turkey and the Balkan Alliance. The First Balkan War, which lasted from October 1912 to May 1913, strengthened Bulgaria's position as a regional military power, significantly reduced Ottoman influence over the Balkans, and resulted in the formation of an independent Albanian state.
The peace settlement of the First Balkan War proved unsatisfactory for both Serbia and Bulgaria. Serbia refused to cede a part of the territories in Macedonia, which it occupied and promised to give to Bulgaria according a secret agreement. Serbia, on its side, was not satisfied with the independence of Albania, and sought a secret alliance with Greece. Armed skirmishes between Serbian and Bulgarian troops occurred. On June 16, 1913, just a few months after the end of the first war, the Bulgarian government ordered an attack on Serbian and Greek positions in Macedonia, without declaring war. Almost all of Bulgaria's 500,000-man standing army was positioned against these two countries, on two fronts - western and southern, while the borders with Romania and the Ottoman Empire were left almost unguarded. Montenegro sent a 12,000-strong force to assist the Serbs. Exhausted from the previous war, which took the highest toll on Bulgaria, the Bulgarian army soon turned on the defensive. Romania attacked from the north and north-east, the Ottoman empire also intervened in Thrace. Allied numerical superiority was almost 2:1. After a month and two days of fighting, the war ended as a moral disaster for Bulgaria, in the same time its economy was ruined and the military - demoralized.
The Kingdom of Bulgaria participated in World War I on the side of the Central Powers between 15 October 1915, when the country declared war on Serbia, to 29 September 1918, when the Armistice of Thessalonica was signed. In the aftermath of the Balkan Wars, Bulgarian opinion turned against Russia and the western powers, whom the Bulgarians felt had done nothing to help them. The government of Vasil Radoslavov aligned the country with Germany and Austria-Hungary, even though this meant also becoming an ally of the Ottomans, Bulgaria's traditional enemy. But Bulgaria now had no claims against the Ottomans, whereas Serbia, Greece and Romania (allies of Britain and France) were all in possession of lands perceived in Bulgaria as its own. In 1915 Germany promised to restore the boundaries according to the Treaty of San Stefano and Bulgaria, which had the largest army in the Balkans, declared war on Serbia in October the same year. In the First World War Bulgaria decisively asserted its military capabilities. The second Battle of Doiran, with general Vladimir Vazov as commander, inflicted a heavy blow on the numerically superior British army, which suffered 12,000 casualties against 2,000 from the opposite side. One year later, during the third battle of Doiran, the United Kingdom, supported by Greece, once again suffered a humiliating defeat, losing 3,155 men against just about 500 for the Bulgarian side. The reputation of the French army also suffered badly. The Battle of the Red Wall was marked with the total defeat of the French forces, with 5,700 out of 6,000 men killed. The 261 frenchmen who survived, were captured by Bulgarian soldiers. Despite the outstanding victories, Germany was near defeat, which meant that Bulgaria would be left without its most powerful ally. The war was already unpopular among Bulgarians themselves, as they were allied with the muslim Ottomans against their Orthodox Christian neighbours. The Agrarian Party leader, Aleksandur Stamboliyski, was imprisoned for his opposition to the war. The Russian Revolution of February 1917 had a great effect in Bulgaria, spreading antiwar and anti-monarchist sentiment among the troops and in the cities. In June Radoslavov's government resigned. Mutinies broke out in the army, Stamboliyski was released and a republic was proclaimed. In 1919 Bulgaria officially left the war with the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine.
The Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine proved to be a severe blow for Bulgaria's military. According to the treaty, the country had no right to organize a conscription-based military. The professional army was to be no more than 20,000 men, including internal forces and border guard. Equipping the army with tanks, submarines, bombers and heavy artillery was strictly prohibited, although Bulgaria managed to get round some of these prohibitions. Nevertheless, in the eve of World War II the Bulgarian army was still well-trained and well-equipped.
The government of the Kingdom of Bulgaria under Prime Minister Bogdan Filov declared a position of neutrality upon the outbreak of World War II. Bulgaria was determined to observe it until the end of the war; but it hoped for bloodless territorial gains, especially in the lands with a significant Bulgarian population occupied by neighbouring countries after the Second Balkan War and World War I. However, it was clear that the central geopolitical position of Bulgaria in the Balkans would inevitably lead to strong external pressure by both World War II factions. Turkey had a non-aggression pact with Bulgaria. On 7 September 1940, Bulgaria succeeded in negotiating a recovery of Southern Dobruja in the Axis-sponsored Treaty of Craiova (see Second Vienna Award). Southern Dobruja had been part of Romania since 1913. This recovery of territory reinforced hopes for resolving other territorial problems without direct involvement in the War. The country was forced to join the Axis Powers in 1941, when German troops preparing to invade Yugoslavia and Greece reached the Bulgarian borders and demanded permission to pass through its territory. On 1 March 1941, Bulgaria signed the Tripartite Pact and Tsar Boris III officially joined the Axis bloc. With the Soviet Union in a non-aggression pact with Germany, there was little popular opposition to the decision. After a short period of inaction, the army launched an operation against Yugoslavia and Greece. The goal of reaching the shores of the Aegean sea and completely occupying the region of Macedonia came to success. Even though Bulgaria did not send any troops to support the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Navy was involved in a number of skirmishes with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, which attacked Bulgarian shipping. Besides this, Bulgarian armed forces garrisoned in the Balkans battled various resistance groups. The Bulgarian government was forced by the Germans to declare a token war on the United Kingdom and the United States near the end of 1941, an act which resulted in the bombing of Sofia and other Bulgarian cities by Allied aircraft. The German invasion of the Soviet Union caused a significant wave of protests, which led to the activation of a mass guerrilla movement headed by the underground Bulgarian Communist Party. A resistance movement called Otechestven front (Fatherland front, Bulgarian: Отечествен фронт) was set up in August 1942 by the Communist Party, the Zveno movement and a number of other parties to oppose the then pro-Nazi government, after a number of Allied victories indicated that the Axis might lose the War. In 1943, tsar Boris III died suddenly. In the summer of 1944, after having crushed the Nazi defence around Iaşi and Chişinău, the Soviet Army was approaching the Balkans and Bulgaria. On 23 August 1944, Romania quit the Axis Powers and declared war on Germany, and allowed Soviet forces to cross its territory to reach Bulgaria. On 26 August 1944, the Fatherland Front made the decision to incite an armed rebellion against the government, which led to the appointment of a new government on 2 September. Support for the government was withheld by the Fatherland Front, since it was composed of pro-Nazi circles, in a desperate attempt to hold on to power. On 5 September 1944, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and invaded, facing no resistance as the Soviets were perceived as liberators. On 8 September 1944, the Bulgarians changed sides and joined the Soviet Union in its war against Nazi Germany.
As the Red Army helped for the installment of a new communist government, the armed forces started to rapidly reorganize following the Soviet model, and were re-named as the Bulgarian People's Army (Bulgarska Narodna Armiya, BNA). Moscow quickly supplied Bulgaria with T-34/85 tanks, SU-100 guns, Il-2 attack planes and other new combat machinery. As the country continued to be a Soviet ally, it finally entered the Warsaw Pact as one of its founders. By the time the army had expanded to over 200,000 men with hundreds of thousands of more reserve troops. Conscription service was obligatory. Turkey and Greece were perceived as Bulgaria's most dangerous enemies, as they did not ally with the USSR. A special defensive line, known as the Krali Marko defensive line, was constructed along the entire border with Turkey. It was heavily fortified with concrete walls and turrets of T-34, Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. Bulgaria participated in the suppression of the Prague spring events. In the meantime, during the rule of Todor Zhivkov, a significant military industrial complex was established, capable of producing armored vehicles, self-proppelled artillery, small arms and ammunition, as well as aircraft engines and spare parts. Bulgaria provided weapons to Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria, and also sent military advisors in some of these countries. Some military and medical aid was also supplied to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. During the 1970s the Air Force was at the apogee of its power, possessing at least 500 modern combat aircraft in its inventory. In 1989, when the Cold War was coming to its end, the army numbered at least 120,000 regular troops.
After recovering from the 1990s crisis, the army became a part of the common defensive system of NATO. As its member, Bulgaria sent a small force of about 100 men in Iraq in 2004. The force patrolled around the streets of several Iraqi cities, at some moments seeing combat against insurgents. Until the withdrawal of the force in December 2008, 13 casualties were given. The Bulgarian soldiers managed to train an entire battallion of the New Iraqi Army. Bulgaria currently maintains a nearly 610 men-strong force in Afghanistan.
The Bulgarian Armed Forces are Headquartered in Sofia, where most of the general staff is based. Currently headed by Chief of Staff General Simeon Hristov Simeonov, the General Staff is responsible for operational command of the Bulgarian Army and its 3 major branches. Deputies: Vice Admiral Petar Petrov, General Atanas Zaprianov, General Dimitar Zehtinov.
Bulgaria's military personnel is estimated to be between 35,000 and 39,000 men. The Land Forces are the largest branch, with at least 29,000 men serving there. Unlike many former Soviet bloc militaries, discipline and morale problems are not common.
During the Communist era, the army members enjoyed extensive social privileges. After the fall of Communism and Bulgaria's transition to a market economy, wages fell severely. For almost a decade social benefits were virtually non-existent, and some of them have been restored but recently. Former defence minister, Nikolai Tsonev, undertook steps to provide the members of the military and their families with certain privileges in terms of healthcare and education, and to improve living conditions.
The Land Forces practice extensive year-round military training in various conditions. Cooperative drills with the United States are very common, the last series of them conducted in 2008. Joint exercises with other states are rare, though. Until recent years the Air Force somewhat suffered from a fuel shortage, which was finally overcomed in 2008. Fighter pilots have year-round flights, but gunship pilots do not fly often due to the yet unfulfilled modernization of the Mi-24 gunships. Transport aircraft have no flying time problems, however. It is expected the combat helicopters will be modernized about 2009-2010. The Navy also has some fuel shortage problems, but military training is still effective. Despite these problems, overall discipline, preparedness, and combat readiness are good.
After the collapse of the Warsaw pact, Bulgaria lost the ability to acquire cheap fuel and spares for its military. A large portion of its nearly 2,000 T-55 tanks fell into disrepair, and eventually almost all of them were scrapped or sold to other countries. In the early 1990s the budget was so small, that regulars only received token-value payments. Many educated and well-trained officers lost the opportunity to educate younger soldiers, as the necessary equipment and basis lacked adequate funding. Military spending increased gradually, especially in the last 10 years. As of 2005, the budget was no more than $400 mln., while military spending for 2009 amounted to more than $1,3 bln. - almost a triple increase for 4 years. Despite this growth, the military still does not receive sufficient funds for modernization due to mismanagement, and, to a minor extent, corruption. An example of bad spending plans is the large-scale purchasing of transport aircraft, while the Air Force has a severe need of new fighters (the MiG-29s, even though modernized, are nearing their operational limits). The planned procurement of 2-4 Gowind class corvettes will probably leave the Navy without any working submarines, as its single Romeo class submarine has long passed its operational limit. As of 2009, military spending is planned to be about 1,98% of GDP. In 2010 the budget is to be 1,89%.
The Land Forces are functionally divided into Active and Reserve Forces. Their main functions include deterrence, defense, peace support and crisis management, humanitarian and rescue missions, as well as social functions within Bulgarian society. Active troops in the land forces number about 29,000 men, and reserve troops number about 300,000.
The Active Forces mainly have peacekeeping and defensive duties, and are further divided into Deployment Forces, Immediate Reaction, and Main Defense Forces. The Reserve Forces consists of Enhancement Forces, Territorial Defense Forces, and Training Grounds. They deal with planning and reservist preparation, armaments and equipment storage, training of formations for active forces rotation or increase in personnel.
The equipment of the land forces is impressive in terms of numbers, but most of it is nonoperational and scheduled to be scrapped or refurbished and exported to other nations. Bulgaria has a military stockpile of about 5,000,000 small arms, models ranging from World War II-era MP 40 machine pistols to modern Steyr AUG, AK-108, HK416 and AR-M2F assault rifles.
The National Guard of Bulgaria, founded in 1879, is the successor to the personal guards of Knyaz Alexander I. On July 12 of that year, the guards escorted the Bulgarian knyaz for the first time; today, July 12 is the official holiday of the National Guard. Throughout the years the structure of the guards has evolved, going from convoy to squadron, to regiment and, subsequent to 1942, to division. Today it includes military units for army salute and wind orchestra duties.
In 2001, the National Guard unit was designated an official military unit of the Bulgarian army and one of the symbols of state authority, along with the flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem.
Note: This table represents active equipment only; there are large numbers of equipment in reserve status. They are not listed here.
|Main Battle Tanks||160 T-72M1|
|Infantry fighting vehicles||114 BMP-23/A; 100 BMP-1P|
|APCs||150 BTR-60PB-MD1; MT-LB; MT-LBu|
|Armored patrol vehicles||7 M1117, 12 BRDM-2|
|G-class armored jeeps||600|
|Artillery pieces over 100 mm (excl. mortar)||192|
The navy has been largely overlooked in the reforms that the Bulgarian armed forces had to go through in order to comply with NATO standards, mostly because of the great expense involved and the fact that naval assaults are not considered to be a great concern for the country's security. That is why three of the four combat submarines (excluding the Romeo class sub Slava) are now docked and have been out of operation for some time. Only the more modern frigates, corvettes and missile crafts are on active duty.
In order to meet at least some of the NATO requirements, in 2005 the Bulgarian government bought from Belgium a Wielingen-class frigate, the BNS Wandelaar (F-912) (built in 1977), and after being renamed to the BG Druzki the frigate serves as the flagship of the Bulgarian Navy. In 2006, following a decision of the Bulgarian Parliament, Druzki took part in the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), patrolling the territorial waters of Lebanon under German command. This was the first time ever the Bulgarian Navy took part in an international peacekeeping operation. In 2008 the other two Belgian Wielingen-class frigates have been purchased, and renamed to Smeli and Gordi. A Tripartite class minehunter has also been acquired.
In the past decade Bulgaria has been trying actively to restructure its army as a whole and a lot of attention has been placed on keeping the aging Russian aircraft operational. Currently the attack and defence branches of the Bulgarian air force are comprised mainly of MIG-21s, MIG-29s and Su-25s. About 16 MiG-29 fighters are being modernized in order to meet NATO standards. The first aircraft arrived on 11/29/07 and final delivery was due in 03/09. In about 2 years time the government intends to purchase 16 modern jet fighters but due to the lack of funding the procedure of choosing the best alternative could be prolonged. The main competitors are expected to be Eurofighter, Dassault Rafale, JAS 39 Gripen, F-15 and F-18. In 2006 the Bulgarian government signed a contract with Alenia Aeronautica for the delivery of five C-27J Spartan transport aircraft in order to replace the old soviet made An-24 and An-26. The first Spartan is expected to arrive in year 2007 and the remaining four until 2011.
Modern EU-made transport helicopters were purchased in 2005 and until now 8 have arrived. In 2–3 years the Bulgarian Air Force will have 12 Eurocopter Cougar helicopters (8 transport and 4 S&R). Until then the Bulgarian Air force would have to rely on the Mi-8s and Mi-17s. Recently, the Ministry of Defense terminated the contract with Elbit Systems for modernizing 12 Mi-25 and 6 Mi-35 helicopters.
Branches of the airforce include: fighter aviation, assault aviation, intelligence aviation and transportation aviation, aid defense troops, radio-technical troops, communications troops, radio-technical support troops, logistics and medical troops.
With the exception of the Navy's small helicopter fleet, the Air Forces are responsible for all military aircraft in Bulgaria. The Air Forces' inventory numbers 124 aircraft, including 46 combat jets and 42 helicopters. Aircraft of western origin have only begun to enter the fleet, numbering 13 of the total in service.
The Bulgarian-American Joint Military Facilities were established by a Defence Cooperation Agreement signed by the United States and Bulgaria in April 2006. Under the agreement, U.S. forces can conduct training at several bases in the country, which remain under Bulgarian command and under the Bulgarian flag. Under the agreement, no more than 2,500 U.S. military personnel can be located at the joint military facilities.