Procurement: Zombie Frigates Roam The Balkans


October 18, 2009: Bulgaria recently cancelled the purchase of four French Gowind 200 frigates. But this probably not the end of this deal, for it has been cancelled before. Two years ago, French warship builder DCNS thought it had lost a deal to sell four stealthy Gowind 200 frigates to Bulgaria. They apparently lost the deal to a much cheaper Belgian offer. France responded by sweetening their offer, and cut the order to two corvettes (with the option to buy two more.)

The original French offer was seen as a sweet deal for Bulgaria, with most of the work being done in Bulgaria, and hundreds of Bulgarians technicians getting specialized training in France. But it was expensive. Each of the 2,000 ton ships would cost about $380 million. Bulgaria is short of cash. To close the deal, DCNS offered to cut the price 13 percent.

Then Belgium came along with a better deal; two Wielingen class frigates (25 year old, 2,300 ton ships, but in great shape) for about $30 million each. The Dutch also threw in a modern minesweeper, for a three ship package costing $72 million. Another advantage of this was that Bulgaria had bought a Wielingen class frigate from Belgium three years ago, and was satisfied with it. Only four Wielingen class ships were built, and one was scrapped in the 1990s. Thus the Belgium deal would give the Bulgarians two good-enough frigates, and three from the same class. Maintenance and training would be simplified. Those three ships would be adequate for the Black Sea, where the biggest concern is smugglers, not a major war.

The Bulgarians decided to go through with the three ship Belgian deal as well, in addition to the four new French ships. But now the Bulgarians have mounting repair bills for the elderly Belgian ships, and a recession to worry about. There is no money for the new French ships, and is not likely to be any in the immediately future. The French are preparing new offers, to save the Gowinds once more.



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