The poor Black Sea state joined NATO in 2004 and became an European Union member in January. It is a staunch ally of Washington’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but its Soviet-made MiG-21s are not compatible with the alliance’s missions. "We need to fulfill missions for NATO and the EU, which makes it very clear that Romania must get 48 multipurpose jets," Frunzaverde told Reuters in an interview. "I hope this year we will start the necessary procedures." Frunzaverde, who became defense minister four months ago, said the purchases would be completed by 2014.
The 80 MIGs in the Romanian fleet, which once formed the backbone of former Warsaw Pact air forces, should gradually be taken out of service by 2013, the minister said.
Several have crashed in recent years during training operations.
Romania’s fellow NATO members from the former Soviet bloc have in recent years replaced, or made plans to replace, MiGs with U.S.-made F-16s or Gripen fighters made by Sweden’s Saab and Britain’s BAE Systems. Frunzaverde said the restructuring of Romania’s military forces was almost complete. Troop numbers have been reduced to 90,000 professional soldiers from 300,000 recruits over the last decade.
The minister also said military bases due to be opened by the United States in Romania should be operational in the second half of the year.Bucharest and Washington signed a deal in December 2005 to open U.S. military facilities in the Black Sea state as part of a shift in the Pentagon’s focus from Cold War European facilities towards smaller bases closer to hotspots such as the Middle East.
The Romanian facilities and bases in Bulgaria will be the first U.S. military installations in the former Soviet bloc."The first troops might come here in the autumn, depending on when the facilities will be finished," Frunzaverde said.