Bulgarian government officials on Thursday addressed lawmakers debating a proposal to buy new F-16 warplanes from the US.
In a revised offer, Washington has proposed the sale of a second batch of eight F-16 fighter aircraft with more modern equipment, Dragomir Zakov, the defense minister from the outgoing Kiril Petkov government, told parliament.
Zakov said Bulgaria would benefit from accepting this offer, on which it will need to decide by Nov. 1.
The purchase, meant to supplement the country’s fleet, was accepted in an initial vote, but has since caused political controversy.
Pro-Russian political forces in the NATO-member country’s parliament have opposed the purchase of the aircraft.
Rumen Gecev, a parliamentarian from the coalition-member Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), said NATO was trying to “corner” Bulgaria with the offer.
“Our strategic NATO ally (US) is trying to corner us by making such an offer. The money paid by the people of Bulgaria has flown away, the expected planes are gone. They haven’t flown yet,” said Gecev.
BSP parliamentary group head Georgi Svilenski, for his part, said Bulgaria was “still waiting” for these planes.
In 2019, Bulgaria paid a full $1.2 billion under its first contract to purchase eight F-16 Block 70 fighter jets from the US.
Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16s, was planning to deliver eight prepaid aircraft in 2023. Explaining that the intervening COVID-19 pandemic disrupted production, the manufacturer later postponed the delivery date to 2025.
The second vote, which is required to finalize the planes’ purchase, has to be passed by parliament by October.
The Bulgarian Air Force’s fleet consists of about 15 Russian-made ex-MiG-type warplanes, only a few of which can fly.
In April, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DFCA) said that the State Department approved the potential sale to Bulgaria of four F-16 C Block 70 fighters and four F-16 D Block 70 fighters together with related equipment for an estimated price of up to $1.673 billion.