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Networking Keeps Business Moving in Bulgaria

November 2010
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine
E-mail About the Author

 

Konstantin Zografov, regional vice president for the AFCEA Mediterranean and Black Sea Region, awards an honorary membership certificate to Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov during the AFCEA Sofia Chapter’s 2009 annual conference. Col. Simeon Atanasov Kralikov, BUAR (Ret.), founder and president of the Sofia Chapter, stands in front. Behind him are (l-r) Vice Adm. Emil Lyutskanov, BUNA (Ret.), Anyu Angelov, Bulgarian minister of defense, and Pavlin Dimitrov, Bulgaria’s deputy minister for the interior.

Southeast Europe is working through a tough economy to further defense and security solutions in the region.

The Bulgarian government and the industry members who support it are battling to move the country’s federal technology forward as the worldwide economic downturn continues. Though times are difficult, public- and private-sector personnel are forming partnerships to advance programs crucial to military and other operations. Entities within the country as well as outside of it, including NATO, are coming together as part of these efforts. By keeping an eye on better times ahead, people in the nation’s information technology field hope to weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side.

One way in which a dynamic dialog about Bulgaria’s critical issues occurs is through the activities of the two AFCEA chapters located there, one in Varna and one in Sofia, the nation’s capital. The cities hosting AFCEA chapters are located on opposite sides of country, and they usually arrange separate events; however, both chapters focus on the same objectives and topics. The two chapters worked together in 2007 on a combined event called TechNet Sofia.

Col. Simeon Atanasov Kralikov, BUAR (Ret.), founder of the AFCEA Sofia Chapter and its president for 17 years, explains that big projects in the information technology market have fallen in number, though next year the chapter anticipates that it might observe a slight growth. The financial problems facing Bulgaria and the world pose the biggest current difficulty for the Sofia Chapter, but other issues include the low level of understanding that companies have of AFCEA’s role, as well as the trouble members have making direct contacts with representatives of different authorities they meet at chapter events. “So the challenge for us is to explain to a wide audience the function and advantages of AFCEA as a [nongovernmental] and nonprofit organization,” Col. Kralikov says.

The Bulgarian market focuses on communications at the tactical level, but that has narrowed because of the financial crisis and lack of resources. One major command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) focus in Bulgaria is a €200 million ($275 million) program that began in 2004 to upgrade the armed forces’ communication and information systems (CIS) infrastructure. The work was included on a list of 11 priority projects for the modernization of the country’s military. Manol Yanchev, the Varna Chapter’s secretary-treasurer, and managing director, Special Logistics, Unimasters Logistics PLC, says, “The program, whose realization would guarantee Bulgaria achieving its CIS-related force goals, includes the equipping of Bulgaria’s deployable forces with communication and information means in line with NATO standards, further developing the stationary CIS of the [Bulgarian Armed Forces] and building a mobile CIS for the armed forces.”

This modernization plan has affected both chapters and helped the Sofia Chapter carry out its most successful events in 2004 and 2005, when the plan was adopted and preparation for several big projects began. Col. Kralikov explains that, “During this process we have enhanced the scope not only for C4ISR but also for all kinds of armament and equipment that was highly appreciated both by government and companies.”  

Several other projects started more recently. In 2009, Bulgaria awarded a contract for the upgrade of the defense ministry’s TETRA network. According to Yanchev, the CIS Directorate and the private company involved believe that the system will undergo further modernization in the next few years. He shares that a leader with the CIS at the Ministry of Defense “noted that, on the basis of the existing Ministry of Defense TETRA network, an interagency TETRA network could be developed that could increase the efficiency of joint actions in the event of crises, disasters or accidents.”

Yanchev explains about another project launched at the end of 2008—the development of an optical network called Strandzha 2. It will serve as a backup to the Strandzha.

Also underway is an effort for a coastal surveillance system called SCREEN. As part of the program, the government is procuring a command and control center for the navy. The center will serve as a key component of the future Bulgarian coastal surveillance system. Another contract in the program involves the delivery of new identification friend or foe systems to be integrated with ground and naval platforms.

 

Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov addresses the AFCEA Varna Chapter naval event on April 1, 2010. Seated are Capt. Kosta Ivanov, BUNA (Ret.) (l), chapter president, and Rear Adm. Plamen Manushev, BUNA, chief of the Bulgarian navy.

Bringing the various projects to bear successfully requires a coming together of public and private partners. Bulgaria’s AFCEA chapters are busy trying to help forge the relationships necessary for the many efforts. “Since its inception, the Varna Chapter has provided continuous support for the process of transforming Bulgaria’s armed forces and a forum for advancing professional knowledge and relationships for the defense community in southeast Europe and the Black Sea Region,” Yanchev says. To date, the chapter has organized nine conferences with focus on the Bulgarian navy and Black Sea security, six for the Bulgarian air force and other southeast Europe air forces, and two for the Bulgarian land forces, he adds. Future goals include encouraging more transparent procurements by the government, seeking a more active role for Parliament in defense procurement and promoting more focused and smaller-scale projects.

The Sofia Chapter aims to satisfy the information needs of industry and government. Col. Kralikov explains that, “In this dialog, the business presents its equipment and solutions, and the governmental representatives explain their current and future needs and requirements.” The chapter’s goals include increasing membership 5 to 10 percent; attracting more foreign companies’ participation in the chapter’s conferences; moving beyond the limits of information technology events because of the limited market, which involves spreading activity toward whole army and police modernization; building closer relationships with ministries and government institutions; organizing more joint events; and sharing AFCEA’s mediation role as an anticorruption measure.

The chapter in Sofia tries to cover the full scope of the defense and security market in the country, mostly focusing on defense, but also working in the areas of internal and border security, identity management, communication security, and financial and bank information security markets. According to Col. Kralikov, most events hosted by the chapter include participation by Bulgarian and foreign companies. Several company chapter members also participate in other AFCEA events in Europe. In its government outreach, the Sofia Chapter works mainly with the Ministry of Defense, but also has a long history of cooperation with many national security institutions “and we work for their enhancement,” Col. Kralikov says. Those include the Ministry of Interior, the State Commission on Information Security and other governmental and academic institutions.

“Almost all of the bigger IT [information technology] business companies in Bulgaria are our members,” Col. Kralikov explains. “In 2006, TechNet Europe was organized and held in Sofia with great interest and success. We also work in cooperation with NATO C3A [Consultation, Command and Control Agency] on specific topics.” As with Sofia, the Varna Chapter’s focus extends beyond the Bulgarian market. Yanchev explains that during conferences, market updates regularly are presented by representatives from Bulgarian institutions as well as other Black Sea and southeastern European countries.

Though both chapters focus on markets in and around Bulgaria, their histories are very different. The Sofia Chapter was established in 1993 and was certified by AFCEA the same year. The political climate at the time presented the founding members with extra difficulties. Col. Kralikov explains that, “The registration by the

Bulgarian Court
in the environment of the post-totalitarian period was a rather difficult task and took about one year.” Since then, the chapter has grown to include approximately 70 individual members and 30 collective members, most of whom represent companies from the information technology sector. Among them are employees from big international companies in Bulgaria such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Individual members comprise active and retired military officers, scientists and experts from the information technology business. In 2009, the ministers of defense and interior and their deputies received honorable AFCEA memberships.

The Varna Chapter differs from its cross-country equivalent both in age and size. Active and retired naval officers from the Bulgarian navy headquarters and the BulgarianNavalAcademy and representatives from the country’s business community stood up the group on May 12, 2000. The chapter currently has 22 regular members, including retired senior military such as a former first deputy chief of the Bulgarian General Staff and a former national defense adviser to the Bulgarian president. Other members serve government agencies such as the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bulgarian navy and the BulgarianNavalAcademy.

Unfortunately for all the members of both chapters, the world economy has proved detrimental to business. “The global economic crisis has had a serious impact on the defense in Bulgaria,” Yanchev says. The defense allocation for 2010 was decreased in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) share for the fourth year in a row, reducing to 1.44 percent of the GDP as compared to the 2.33 percent that was allocated in 2007, he adds.

The Sofia Chapter confirms the difficult situation, but believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “There is a general declination of the business in Bulgaria, but we expect the negative trend to stop [at] the end of the year,” Col. Kralikov states. Until then, the crisis will continue to affect operations. The chapter president says the number of participants at conferences is decreasing, which means that income for the chapter is lower.

WEB RESOURCES
Varna Chapter: www.afcea.bg
Sofia Chapter: www.afcea-bg.org/scripts/isapivwb.dll