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PTI, Jul 11, 2019, 11:25 AM IST

Bulgaria will buy eight F-16 fighter jets to replace its ageing Soviet-built MiG-29 planes, its deputy defence minister said on Wednesday. The price tag for the Lockheed Martin jets equipped with air-to-air missiles and visualisation and surveillance systems is $1.26 billion (1.12 billion euros), said Deputy Defence Minister Atanas Zaprianov. The government had initially budgeted 1.8 billion leva (920 million euros) for the purchase, but the purchase is still expected to be approved by parliament.

The jets, six single-seaters and two with two seats, are scheduled for delivery by 2023.

Bulgaria, a NATO member since 2004, has been looking to replace its ageing Soviet-built MiG-29 planes for some years. “The purchase of the new aircraft will improve our interoperability with NATO. Bulgarian pilots will no longer feel like they are in NATO’s backyard,” said air force deputy commander General Petio Mirchev.

Italy had wanted to sell the country used Eurofighters, while Sweden had offered 10 new Gripen. But conservative Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said last year that he favoured the F-16 fighters over the others, which did not include costly weapons.

Under the agreed deal, the US would cover $60 million in maintenance and pilot training costs out of the total bill, pending US Congress approval, Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said.

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