SOFIA, June 14 (Reuters) - Sweden’s Saab expects to enter into talks with Bulgaria in a few months to supply it with new Gripen fighter jets, a company executive said on Wednesday.
The previous interim government in Sofia had said talks should start with Sweden for the purchase of eight Gripen aircraft, but current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has cast doubts on whether Sofia should rush into a deal, estimated at 1.5 billion levs ($860 million).
The defence ministry, looking to replace ageing MiG-29 aircraft, had picked the Swedish jet over an offer from Portugal and the United States for second-hand U.S. F-16s and an Italian offer of second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons.
“What we hope and expect is that we would be called to negotiate ... probably after the summer break,” Magnus Lewis-Olsson, Saab’s head of Europe, told reporters in Sofia.
“If Bulgaria wants their aircraft in quite quickly then obviously we hope negotiations (are going) to start soon because we’ve got to build the aircraft as well,” he said.
Bulgarian officials say the country, a member of the European Union and NATO, should move ahead simultaneously with buying new ships and armoured vehicles for its army, and that would require significant financial resources.
Lewis-Olsson said Saab was ready to discuss different financing options, including payments over a long period, and would be prepared to provide about 4 fighter jets in 18 months upon signing.
“This is something that is going to last for 40 years, it is a cost for a country for a long time, so we are prepared to discuss how we finance it,” he said.
Last month Saab, which has provided Gripen warplanes to Hungary and the Czech Republic, said it hoped Croatia could enter the market for fighter jets soon and that it would hold talks with Slovakia over new aircraft.
$1 = 1.7443 leva Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Potter