Bulgaria gets two firm offers in $823 mln armoured vehicle tender

SOFIA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - A Swiss registered unit of U.S. General Dynamics and Finland’s Patria have filed firm offers in a 1.46 billion levs ($823 million) tender to provide 150 armoured vehicles for the Bulgarian army, Bulgaria’s defence minister said on Wednesday.

Germany’s Artec proposed a specific project while France’s Nexter offered direct government negotiations, Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said.

Addressing the French offer, Karakachanov said the direct talks were not an option in the current process. He added that if parliament changes the rules, the ministry could reconsider the tender’s requirements.

Bulgaria’s parliament has already changed some regulations, allowing the government to buy eight new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets from the United States earlier this year in a $1.26 billion deal - the Balkan country’s biggest military purchase since the fall of Communism three decades ago.

The defence ministry is due to evaluate the offers for the armoured vehicles by early March and sign a contract with the winner in the first half of next year.

Bulgaria, which aims to raise its annual defence expenditure to two percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2024, joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union three years later.

NATO has encouraged its eastern members to develop, buy and operate new alliance equipment. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by Alexandra Hudson)