SOFIA, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Bulgaria plans to spend about 1.5 billion levs ($808.63 million)on eight new or second-hand jet fighters and has asked Italy, Portugal, the United States and Sweden to make offers to supply them, the defence ministry said on Friday.
The fighter jets would replace Bulgaria’s ageing Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighters and would improve the Balkan country’s compliance with NATO standards and reduce its reliance on Russian-made aircraft.
The Bulgarian parliament has approved the plans and some funds for the deal have been set aside in the 2017 budget.
“The ministers of defence and the economy have signed a request for proposals for the delivery of multipurpose jet fighters,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
Sofia will choose between new Gripen jets from Sweden’s SAAB and second-hand U.S. F-16 from Portugal, equipped with U.S. weaponry. Another option is to buy second-hand Eurofighter Typhoon fighters from Italy.
A source familiar with the process told Reuters EU and NATO member Bulgaria would give the four countries three months to reply.
The deal would have to be approved by a new government that is likely to be formed after elections that are expected in the spring following the resignation of the country’s centre-right government last month.
Bulgaria signed a deal last year with NATO member Poland for repairs of the MiG-29 fighters. In November, the country signed a deal with a Bulgarian company to supply it with four new and six repaired Russian engines for the aircraft. ($1 = 1.8550 leva) (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova. Editing by Jane Merriman)