During the last 20 years, significant changes have been made to the Bulgarian Armed Forces. Considerable efforts and important decisions have been implemented, resulting in a significant reduction in size of the forces. In 2004 Bulgaria gained membership into NATO and had to adapt to a new security environment. The logical development of the reform process required a fundamental Strategic Defense Review (SDR) of the structure and capabilities, which the armed forces would need for the future in order to be able to contribute most effectively to the broad spectrum of Alliance's missions.
The outcome of the SDR resulted in a "Long term Vision for the Development of the Bulgarian Armed Forces until year 2015”. In 2008 an "Updated Implementation Plan for the Development of the Bulgarian Armed Forces” was adopted taking into account the NATO Ministerial Guidance 2006 and the Comprehensive Political Guidance. It aims to strike a better balance between Bulgaria's operational commitments, development of expeditionary capabilities and available financial resources and manpower. As a priority, the Updated Plan will focus on initiatives to allow the Bulgarian Armed Forces (BAF) to carry out their NATO and EU commitments more effectively.
The new Law on Defence endorsed by the Parliament in May 2009 led to a new integrated structure accommodating the political and military leadership in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which consists of general and specialized administration, CHOD's office and subordinate directorates. Additionally some other structures such as Defence and Staff College, National Military University and Naval Academy, Military Medical Academy and Military Police Service are placed under the supervision of the MoD as well. Currently the Bulgarian Armed Forces' strength is about 32000. They comprise Joint Operations Command, Support and Supply Command and 3 Services (Land Force, Air Force and Navy). Since January 2008 the BAF have become fully professional. The recruitment of personnel is a permanent process and recently does not face significant problems.
Over the last two years, Bulgaria has maintained about 4.3% (about 700 personnel) of its reported Land Forces strength on operations outside national territory. Land Forces personnel have participated in, KFOR, ISAF, EU Operation Althea, coalition operations in Iraq, NTM-I, and several UN and EU missions. Based on the recent development of the situation in Afghanistan Bulgaria plans to deploy in the second semester of 2010 additional personnel to OMLT within the NTM-A operation. More troops would be able to augment the Bulgarian force protection unit of the Kandahar airfield if an appropriate national political decision would be taken. Operational contributions have been predominantly from the Land Forces. Nevertheless, the Navy continues to support Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean and is considering participation in counter-piracy operations of EU and NATO upon national political decision. Bulgaria's integration into NATINADS is progressing well. NATO Air Policing tasks over the national territory are being regularly executed. The aircraft designated to participate in NATO operations and airfields are being equipped with interoperable navigation, communication and identification systems.
Up to now, Bulgaria has supported the NRF and EU Battle Groups with contributions of smaller units. However a mechanised battalion was part of NRF 13 in the second half of 2009. In 2010 Bulgaria will support NRF-14 and 15 contributing a frigate, CBRN platoon and deployable airbase support personnel. It also participates in regional multinational formations such as SEEBRIG and BLACKSEAFOR. As a target to be reached in the short term, Bulgaria aims to deploy no less than 8 % of its Land Forces on NATO operations and the Navy and Air Force will expand their capabilities for participation in operations outside national territory. Bulgaria will host one Deployable CIS Module within the 2nd NATO Signal Battalion as from 2010.
Adequate funding is essential for the development of the necessary operational capabilities. During the past few years the Bulgarian government has succeeded to allocate a relatively high percentage of GDP (2.3%) for defence needs. However pressed by the current global financial crisis the government reduced these resources to 1,98 % of GDP for 2009 and 1.44 % of GDP for 2010. In the follow up years the government intends to allocate no less than 2% of GDP to defence.
The Bulgarian NMR, Rear Admiral Georgiev proudly stated that the BAF retain one of the highest percentages of positive public trust among all governmental institutions. Participation in international organizations like NATO contributes significantly to the national security and therefore is highly appreciated by the public opinion. Moreover due to the fact that the BAF render a significant support to natural disasters relief, search and rescue operations, protection of critical infrastructure and all kind of crisis other then war their image stays constantly high. The military as a whole has a significant influence on the overall image of Bulgaria as a factor of stability in the region and resulted in increasing the foreign investments as well.