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SOFIA (Bulgaria), April 11 (SeeNews) - US aerospace and defence company Lockheed Martin said on Thursday that if it strikes a deal with Bulgaria this summer, it could deliver the first F-16 jet fighter to the country by the end of 2022.
If the two parties reach an agreement in the summer, the training of Bulgarian Air Force pilots and ground crew will commence no later than 2021, Lockheed Martin quoted its international business development senior manager Jim Robinson as saying in a statement.
The company is due to launch in two weeks' time a new aircraft manufacturing facility in Greenville, South Carolina , where the F-16 jets for Bulgaria could be made if a deal is signed.
In addition, as part of its commitments, Lockheed Martin will open a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Bulgaria, where local engineers will be responsible for the maintenance of the F-16 jets during their 12,000 flight hours lifespan.
According to Lockheed Martin, Romania is also looking into the possibility of acquiring more jets, while Croatia is reviewing the needs of its air force.
Bulgaria's parliament mandated the government in January to launch talks with the US over the purchase of F-16 Block 70 jet fighters.
In October 2018, Bulgaria said that the U.S., Sweden and Italy have responded to its request for proposals for supply of up to 16 jets to replace the ageing fleet of Russian-made combat aircraft of the Bulgarian Air Force. The U.S. offered to supply new F-16 or F-18 jets, Saab offered to supply new Gripen C/D fighter jets, while Italy offered used Eurofighter aircraft. Subsequently, Saab improved its bid and offered to deliver 10 jets instead of the initially proposed eight.
In June 2018, Bulgaria’s parliament approved a plan for the acquisition of NATO-compatible combat aircraft in two stages. The first stage envisages the purchase of no less than eight aircraft for an estimated total of some 1.8 billion levs ($1.1 billion/ 920.3 million euro).
(1 euro = 1.95583 levs)