The government proposes to the Bulgarian Parliament to approve the opening of negotiations with the United States for the purchase of new fighter aircrafts F-16 for the Bulgarian Air Force...

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The government proposes to the Bulgarian Parliament to approve the opening of negotiations with the United States for the purchase of new fighter aircrafts F-16 for the Bulgarian Air Force. The cabinet's decision came two weeks after a working group at the Ministry of Defence chose F-16 among a total of 3 proposals.

At a meeting on 9th of January, the Council of Ministers decided to propose to the Parliament a mandate to negotiate with the United States.

The United States offers the supply of 8 F-16 fighter jets for the Bulgarian Air Force. The decision came after experts from the Ministry of Defence chose this offer from a total of 3. Sweden offered Gripen and Italy offered Eurofighter. In assessing the bids, the understanding was that the United States was ready to deliver a complete package - an airplane with available armaments and equipment, unlike the other two offers.

In announcing this decision, Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov pointed out that the decision was to start negotiations.

What the government also wants from the Parliament is that if it becomes necessary to deviate from the financial parametres already voted by the Parliament - BGN 1,800,000,000, the Cabinet then should have the opportunity to make that decision.

Krassimir Karakachanov, Minister of Defence: I did not accidentally emphasise on both points of the Council of Ministers, which we propose to be a decision of the National Assembly, on the phrase "to hold negotiations", because although our proposal was clear, on 21 December, I very clearly said that we would offer to open negotiations with the US on a contract for purchase of aircarft. However, there was a lot of speculation that Council of Ministers had decided to "buy" the airctarfs. The word "negotiation" is extremely important in this context. You saw the White House's statement yesterday. I will not hide that in the course of the negotiations over the past few months we have had certain assurances that the price will be adjusted - the price offered by the United States. Yesterday's statement at the White House also clearly showed that Washington also had an understanding of the negotiation process and the financial parametres set out in our updated project.

Gen. Andrei Botsev, Head of Defence: I want to thank the joint committee, which has done a good job. It consisted of military experts and I want to thank for continuing the process for acquiring new fighter jets necessary for our Air Force, and I hope to conclude this contract at the very best conditions for the state as soon as possible. So, I hope the National Assembly also gives mandate to the government to continue the negotiations so that a contract can be concluded.

Gen. Major Tsanko Stoykov, Air Force Commander: I would say that it is a historic moment, since more than 10 years there have been attempts to reach this point and the fact that the project and the procedure did not return in starting position really deserves gratitude from me as commander of the Air Force and from the Air Force, because modernisation is essential. You are all familiar with the problems we have with the maintenance and operation of the already aging aviation equipment with which we carry out the main tasks and with which we guarantee the air sovereignty of the Republic of Bulgaria. With this we can only be pleased. The aircrafts are new, modern, with the latest equipment and armaments, so we will be able to carry out the tasks that are now set for the performance of the Air Force.

In a statement from the White House, it was already announced that the US are ready in the course of possible negotiations with Bulgaria to meet the country’s budget and operational requirements, which the Defence Minister interprets as an opportunity to achieve reduction in their price. There are more points that the two countries may need to further clarify, such as the fact that Bulgaria wants to pay for the aircrafts by deferred payment, and the Americans want it to be in a lump sum. The Americans could not deliver the aircraft within 24 months, as we insist, but it is still obvious that if a sanction is received by the SC, these points will be cleared in the course of possible negotiations.