SOFIA, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s defence ministry commission recommended on Friday that the government starts talks with the United States to buy new F-16 war planes to improve its compliance with NATO standards, the defence minister said on Friday.
The United States, Sweden and Italy have filed bids to supply Bulgaria with eight fighter jets aimed at replacing its ageing Soviet-designed MiG-29s, in a tender estimated at 1.8 billion levs ($1.05 billion).
“The acquisition of a new multipurpose fighter such as F-16V Block 70 from the United States, equipped with the latest generation radar and weaponry will improve significantly the combat capabilities of the Bulgarian air forces,” Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov told reporters.
The Bulgarian government will have to decide on the report next month and pending approval by the parliament, Sofia can start talks for the deal, he said.
Apart from the new Lockheed Martin F-16 jets the United States also proposed new Boeing F-18 Super Hornets. The ministry, however, said it that offer did not meet the tender requirements.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington was committed to work with the government to tailor the final scope of the deal to fit its budgetary and operational requirements.
In a bid to win the tender, Sweden has sweetened its offer and proposed to supply Bulgaria with 10 new Saab Gripen jets instead of eight for the same price.
Italy proposed supplying second-hand Eurofighters.
NATO has encouraged its eastern members to develop, buy and operate new equipment made by alliance countries.
The question of which war planes to buy has vexed successive governments in Bulgaria for more than a decade. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov)