Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on Tuesday vetoed a $1.3-billion deal to buy eight F-16 fighter jets from the United States, saying there had been insufficient debate before parliament approved it.
“Due to the shortened legislative procedure, a series of important issues remained unclear such as costs, guarantees, delivery times, forfeits, indemnities,” Radev said on July 23.
Given the strategic importance of the agreement, this was not acceptable, he added.
Under the $1.3 billion package deal with the U.S., Bulgaria’s government agreed to buy eight F-16 Block 70 multi-role fighter jets for its air force.
The deal also included missiles, training and support, making it the country’s biggest military equipment purchase since the fall of communism three decades ago.
The defense minister had already signed the deal and the new aircraft were scheduled for delivery between mid-2023 and early 2024.
Last June, Bulgaria’s parliament approved spending 1.8 billion leva ($1.1 billion) on new aircraft to replace its current fleet of Soviet-built MiG-29 jets.
Parliament ratified the costly F-16 purchase in a “fast-track” procedure last Friday that allowed lawmakers to scrap discussions between the required two votes on the deal.
But the high price of the purchase triggered heated, if shorter, debates initiated by the socialist opposition, who wanted more details about the deal – while not objecting to the need to buy more aircraft.
Radev cited these debates as a sign of the “lack of national consensus and conviction in the mutually beneficial terms of the agreement.”
The president is a former pilot and air force commander and as president is also commander-in-chief of the army. He favored choosing a cheaper option, such as Sweden’s Gripen fighters.
He has argued that other countries, such as Slovakia and Bahrain have paid less for the U.S. fighter in recent deals.
On Tuesday, he argued that Bulgaria needed a multifunctional aircraft with a full package of arms, equipment and training, but added, “The public deserves a categorical answer if this is indeed achieved with the signed agreements.”
Parliament will now have to hold another debate and vote again on the deal, but lawmakers are expected to approve it and this time Radev will have to sign it into force.
With reporting from AFP