Bulgaria cuts back military plane orders: minister

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Bulgaria has cut back its orders for military helicopters from France's Eurocopter and transport planes from Italy's Alenia, Defence Minister Anyu Angelov announced Thursday.

"We are definitely taking only three Panther helicopters instead of the initial six," planned as part of a 358-million-euro (473-million-dollar) order from Eurocopter, Angelov said.

"For this we have the agreement of the French side," he said at his annual wrap-up meeting with the press.

Bulgaria also cut back a 91-million-euro order for five C-27J Spartan transport aircraft from Italy's Alenia Aeronautica, Angelov added.

"We managed to refuse the fourth and fifth Spartan planes and transfer any payments made on them towards the third aircraft, which is due to be delivered by March 2011," Angelov said.

Bulgaria already announced in August plans to cancel part of its orders from Eurocopter and Alenia.

Angelov added however Thursday that there were still "extremely hard negotiations with Eurocopter ahead," as Bulgaria tries to convince the company to drop its claim for a 12-million-euro penalty over delayed payments.

The minister could not immediately say how much money Bulgaria would save from its initial order to Eurocopter, which included six Panther AS323s helicopters for its navy and 12 Cougar AS352 choppers for the air force.

The latter have already been paid for and have been almost fully delivered.

Angelov also said the ministry was considering signing with Alenia by June 2011 a 25-million-euro maintenance deal for the three Spartans, to run by 2017.

Despite severe financial constraints, the ministry was going ahead with plans to acquire new multipurpose fighters for the air force and would soon request preliminary offers from makers in France, Italy, Germany, Sweden and the United States, the minister noted.

"Their number would most probably not go over eight," he said, adding that a tender would be called at the beginning of 2012 at the earliest.

© 2010 AFP

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