Bulgaria is likely to halt negotiations with the US for the purchase of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 fighter jets, according to Bulgaria’s defence minister, instead, turning to Sweden or Italy for new combat aircraft.
Bulgarian Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov, following talks with the United States, has shared his opinion on the NOVA television network saying that the US-proposed price for F-16s was unreasonably higher than that expected by Sofia.
To make the situation clear the minister of defence used the example of a price of a cup: "When you are told that something costs five levs but in fact, it costs three levs, it's alright to ask the question: Fellas, there is no logic in that, where does the price come from?" Karakachanov said.
According to the minister, Bulgaria wants to reduce the cost of fighters not at the expense of armaments, but at the expense of other components for which it makes no sense to pay.
"One such example is language learning. The pilots we send have already taken language courses and been trained in the USA. Does it make sense for the country to pay again for language training, which will largely be something formal?" the minister noted.
Karakachanov also reiterated that Bulgaria is continuing negotiations on payment in several parts, because a one-time payment would jeopardise the refurbishment of existing equipment and the decision to raise the salaries of servicemen.
"I gave an instruction to look for such an option so that Bulgaria does not make payments for the entire amount in a lump-sum", Karakachanov said.
The defence minister previously said that if the negotiations with the United States fail, Bulgaria could return to considering proposals for the acquisition of fighters from Sweden or Italy.
Former Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev expressed doubts that Bulgaria wants to buy American fighters at all. In his opinion, the negotiations "were doomed to fail from the very beginning" while Sofia really wants to buy Swedish aircraft.
The decision to acquire the F-16s was made in December. The Interdepartmental Commission, as part of Bulgaria's tender to acquire 8 new fighter jets for its Air Force to replace aging Russian MiG-29 fighters with a Western-made aircraft, also considered purchasing the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen and the pre-owned Italian Eurofighter Typhoon.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, for his part, has called the procedure for choosing aircraft a "game of democracy" and a "triumph of lobbying". Some opposition parties in the country have sharply criticised the government's choice.
Initially, the cost that the country was willing to pay for the American fighters was 1.8 billion levs (around 920 million euros), but then the parliament agreed that more money could be allocated for the purchase.