SOFIA, June 8 (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s parliament gave the green light on Friday to a plan to buy 16 new or used fighter jets to replace its ageing Soviet-designed MiG-29s as well as the purchase of 150 combat vehicles.
Bulgaria, which joined NATO in 2004, will call for bids to supply the aircraft from the United States, Portugal, Italy, France, Sweden and Israel.
Under the plan backed by 151 lawmakers in the 240-seat parliament, it would acquire the jets in two equal stages to improve its compliance with NATO standards.
Some 1.8 billion levs ($1.08 billion) will cover the first eight aircraft, as well as ground handling, team training and three-year initial integrated logistics support.
The Balkan country would also spend 1.46 billion levs on armoured vehicles for three infantry battalion groups, as well as systems, additional equipment and training.
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.
NATO has encouraged its eastern members to develop, buy and operate new alliance equipment compatible with older Soviet-era systems.
Some eastern European NATO allies that were once Soviet satellites still rely on Russian-made military jets - two-thirds of Poland’s military equipment dates from the pre-1991 Soviet era, for example.
The question of which warplanes to buy has vexed successive governments in Bulgaria for more than a decade. ($1 = 1.6624 leva) (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)