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06:37 AM, July 11, 2019
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USAF F-16 fighter (image: Rushabh P Bafna)

Bulgaria has signed a $1.26 billion contract with the United States for 8 Lockheed Martin F-16 combat aircraft, delivery of which will be completed by 2023, the country's defense ministry announced Wednesday.

The NATO-member state was looking to acquire 8 fighters to replace its ageing Russian Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters with a western jet. They had an option to choose from Saab’s Gripen fighters and handed-down Italian Eurofighters apart from US’ F-16 jets.

Deputy Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov said that 6 single-seat and 2 two-seat F-16s would be delivered by 2023, reports Reuters.

The deal has four key elements – delivery of the aircraft, delivery of their combat equipment, supply of simulators and logistics equipment. Training for pilots and ground crew was also included in the price.

In May, it was speculated that the Balkan country would pick Gripen or Eurofighter after Krasimir Karakachanov, the country's defense minister told a local radio broadcaster, that “Bulgarian Government authorities are not expecting to receive anything for free from the US," but they expect them to offer the aircraft at "normal prices."

"They must offer prices similar to that offered to other countries, for example, Slovakia," he said.

Last year, the Slovak Cabinet signed a contract worth about $1.78 billion (€1.59 billion) to acquire 14 F-16 Block 70/72 fighters from the United States (each unit costing about $127 million), reported www.proelasi.org. The minister however did not disclose the value of the offer made by the American side.

In January 2019, Reuters reported that the Parliament of Bulgaria had approved government’s plan to begin negotiations with the US regarding the purchase of eight new F-16V fighter jets for $1.05 billion (1.8 billion levs).

Nearly 130 lawmakers voted in favour of the plan of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government while 84 deputies were against it, accusing the cabinet of breaching the tender rules.

“The US’ bid exceeds the budget by $174 million (300 million levs). Negotiations might last for four months, with the first meeting expected in Brussels next month,” Karakachanov had said.

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