Bulgaria sees F-16 jet deal with U.S. at $1.2 billion

SOFIA (Reuters) - NATO member Bulgaria expects the United States to offer to sell it eight new F-16 fighter jets for its air force at a discounted price of $1.2 billion, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 jet fighter attends the CRUZEX, a multi-national air exercise hosted by the Brazilian Air Force in Natal, Brazil November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

The U.S. State Department approved the possible sale of eight F-16 aircraft and related equipment at an estimated cost of $1.67 billion, a Pentagon agency said on Monday.

Bulgaria, which is also a member of the European Union, is looking to replace its ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s and improve compliance with NATO standards.

A deal for Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 would be the Balkan country’s biggest military procurement since the fall of Communist rule some 30 years ago.

The defence ministry said the U.S. approval outlined the upper threshold of the cost and it expected a draft contract from Washington within two weeks.

“There is a two-week timeline in which the U.S. government will present to Bulgaria a draft Letter of Offer and Acceptance in which the expected price for the eight jets with a package of necessary related equipment will be within $1.2 billion,” the ministry said in a statement.

The expected price comes above the initial estimate for the deal at 1.8 billion levs ($1 billion) but the Bulgarian parliament has given the defence ministry a green light to go over that.

Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said that the deviation from the initial budget should not be big.

“About 2 billion levs ($1.2 billion) is the upper threshold of a reasonable price,” he told reporters.

The U.S. Embassy in Sofia said that the Departments of State and Defense allow for a margin in all notifications to the U.S. Congress and that the actual cost will be based on Bulgaria’s final requirements.

Final talks on the deal will start once Sofia receives the draft contract. The cost’s reduction would most likely be achieved by scaling down some of the related equipment, local analysts say.

“At that stage...the Bulgarian government may re-scope and re-define the requirements before arriving at the ultimate cost,” the embassy said in a statement.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Keith Weir