Tuesday, August 12, 2008

INTERVIEW-Romania to start talks to buy fighting jets by Nov

United States - By Marius Zaharia

BUCHAREST, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The Romanian government plans to approve the acquisition of 48 fighter jets worth at least 4 billion euros ($6 billion) by November, Defence Minister Teodor Melescanu told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

The second-poorest European Union member joined NATO in 2004 and has been a staunch ally of Washington's military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but its Soviet-made MiG-21s are not compatible with NATO missions and need to be replaced.

Romania is part of NATO's Strategic Airlift Capability fleet and agreed to purchase new aircraft to meet its requirements.

"We have a green light from almost all the concerning institutions to buy them, and only need one more approval from the finance ministry which still has some questions about the costs," Melescanu said.

"I definitely expect the government's decision by November. Then we will start talks with the sellers."

Melescanu said five jets meet Romania's defence needs: F-16 of Lockheed Martin Corp (nyse: LMT - news - people ), F-18 of Boeing (nyse: BA - news - people ) Co, Rafale of France's Dassault, Grippen of SAAB and Eurofighter of EADS.

He said the government will either invite companies to take part in a tender or start direct negotiations with one of them.

Melescanu said the initial estimation of the costs is about 4 billion euros, but depending on the maturity of the loans, the timing of the decision and the financing conditions, costs may rise by up to 50 percent.

"It will be a multi-year financing, extra-budgetary, through loans from banks and other institutions," Melescanu said. "The limit is set to 2.38 percent of the gross domestic product for every year of the financing."

Melescanu said the jets could be new, second-hand, or a mix of those. They will be delivered in the 2010-2012 period, when the fleet of 80 MiG-21s will be gradually scrapped.

The minister also said it plans to acquire high-altitude rockets, four corvettes and four ships able to detect mines, and several armed transporters for land troops, but he did not offer more details. (Editing by Mary Gabriel)

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