July 10, 2019 / 10:12 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Bulgaria approves $1.26 billion deal with US to buy F-16 aircraft

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* Deal should be approved by parliament next week

* Bulgaria is a staunch Washington ally

SOFIA, July 10 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's government approved a deal on Wednesday with the United States to buy eight new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters for its air force for $1.256 billion, the defence ministry said, its biggest military purchase since the fall of Communism.

The Balkan country, which is а NATO member and a staunch Washington ally, is looking to replace its ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s and improve compliance with NATO standards.

The decision needs parliament's approval before it can be completed. It is expected the deal would easily win parliament's endorsement in a vote likely to take place next week.

Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said there was an option for the U.S. Congress to reduce the price by $60 million due to the cost of adapting an air base in southern Bulgaria to the F-16's requirements.

"A long-standing Air Force dream happened at last," Deputy Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov told reporters.

"It puts them on an equal footing with our NATO partners. Our Air Force will have confidence that they have something as contemporary and up-to-date as our colleagues."

Zapryanov said that six single-seat and two two-seat F-16s would be delivered by 2023. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by Peter Graff)

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