BUCHAREST --- Romania will operate in 2017 a 12-strong squadron of F-16 multirole fighters purchased from Portugal, to replace the current Soviet-built MIG-21 Lancers, the country's Defence Minister Mircea Dusa said on Monday.
Dusa paid last week an official visit to Portugal and discussed the possible acquisition with his counterpart Jose Pedro Aguiar-Branco.
"By the end of May, we will probably finalize documents with the Portuguese party and subsequently, until September - with the American party, so that we resume the multirole aircraft equipping program at the scale of a squadron, i.e. 12 planes," said the official, specifying that "we will also tackle the amounts to be paid," when negotiations will have been completed.
Dusa's predecessor Corneliu Dobritoiu announced last autumn that Romania will pay around 670 million euros over five years for these fighter jets. "Only about 120 million euros go to paying for the aircraft, the rest being logistic support, which would have been the same if we had purchased new aircraft," he explained.
Romania and Portugal have a deadline this June to complete negotiations, Dusa said that the package included everything necessary for the operation of the planes: the training of the pilots, maintenance, upgrading and everything else.
According to sources, the fighters are among the 25 F-16s delivered to Portugal by the United States in 1999 under the Peace Atlantis II Program. Prior to that, they had been used by the U.S. Air Force since 1984 before they were placed in storage.
The aircrafts are in "very good" condition, according the Romanian expert teams sent to Portugal to evaluate the technical condition of the multi-purpose jets with the assistance of U.S. experts.
The Romanian Air Force operates some 48 MiG-21 Lancer jet fighters which, after 40 years of missions, are towards the end of their flight resources.
Though the fighter jets from Portugal are already 30-years-old, they can be used for at least 20 more years, according to experts.
Romania's neighbour Bulgaria had also expressed interest in nine used F-16s from Portugal. (ends)