The United States is committed to working with the Bulgarian government to tailor the final scope of a potential F-16 sale to fit its budgetary and operational requirements, while still offering superior capabilities, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
In a statement on the State Department website, Pompeo said that he had emphasised this in a phone call with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov on December 18, and said that the same message had been underlined by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan during his visit to Sofia last weekend.
The US welcomes Bulgaria’s defence modernisation plans and looks forward to the country’s imminent selection of a new multirole fighter aircraft, Pompeo said.
He said that the US has provided more than $200 million in security assistance to Bulgaria over the past 25 years to increase military professionalisation and Nato interoperability.
The US also has invested more than $100 million in upgrades to the Novo Selo Training Centre and Graf Ignatievo air base as part of the European Deterrence Initiative, and plans to continue such upgrades in the future, Pompeo said.
The US will continue to prioritise investments with Bulgaria that build Nato interoperability, he said, and added that the US “looks forward to completing final negotiations with the Bulgarian government”.
An earlier statement by the Bulgarian government said only that Pompeo and Borissov had spoken on the phone, at Pompeo’s request, and that the two had “discussed bilateral co-operation in the security and defence fields”.
The Bulgarian government statement said that Borissov and Pompeo also had discussed topics related to energy security and diversification, the European “Balkan” gas distribution centre, as well as bilateral investments and relations.
Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry received four offers in reply to its request for proposals to supply fighter jets to the Bulgarian Air Force, the deadline for which was October 1.
Two offers came from the US, for new F-16s and new F-18s, while Sweden once again put forward its offer for new Gripen jets. Italy’s offer was for used Eurofighters.
Bulgaria had invited bids from seven countries in July after Parliament approved, in June 2018, a 3.5 billion leva military modernisation project, which included 1.8 billion leva for the fighter jets, to be acquired in two stages of eight each.
The deadline for the US, Sweden and Italy to improve their bids was December 14.
Sweden’s Gripen announced that day that it was now offering 10 instead of eight fighters. The same day, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that he had spoken to Air Force pilots and saw the F-16 as the best offer, though he added he did not want to interfere in the selection process.