SOFIA, May 16 (Reuters) - The Bulgarian government on Wednesday approved the purchase of up to 10 new or used fighter jets to replace its ageing Soviet-designed MiG-29s as well as the purchase of 150 combat vehicles, the defence minister said.
NATO has encouraged its eastern members, such as Bulgaria which joined in 2004, to develop, buy and operate new alliance equipment compatible with older Soviet-era systems.
However, the question of which warplanes to buy has vexed successive governments in Bulgaria for more than a decade.
Under the plan, Bulgaria would acquire at least eight jets in a 1.8 billion levs ($1.08 billion) deal to improve its compliance with NATO standards and spend 1.46 billion levs on armoured vehicles, Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said.
The deals require approval of the parliament.
"I hope, if there is no delay in the parliament, to have a signed contract for at least one of the projects by the end of the year," Karakachanov told a news conference.
Bulgaria has received offers of Gripen warplanes from Swedish manufacturer Saab as well as offers for used F-16s from Portugal and secondhand Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy.
Several companies, including French state-owned group Nexter Systems, Finland's Patria, Germany's Rheinmetall Defence AG, U.S.-based Textron Inc and Swiss firm Mowag, which is part of General Dynamics' European Land Systems Group, have expressed interest in supplying armoured vehicles, sources familiar with the matter said.
$1 = 1.6591 leva Reporting by Angel Krasimirov