Gripen Tipped as Winner for Bulgaria's USD 1 B Fighter Jet Contract

Business | September 3, 2006, Sunday // 00:00

The Bulgarian government is looking to buy a new fleet of fighter jets, launching a USD 1B battle involving some of the biggest arms companies in the world, the British Independent reported Saturday.

Boeing, which manufactures the F/A-18, Dassault Aviation of France, and Gripen, the Swedish jet aircraft maker owned by aerospace group Saab, have already responded to the request for information from the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence.

Eurofighter, the jet maker part-owned by BAE Systems, is "considering its response", said a spokesman. "The likelihood is that we will be in it," he added.

Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-16, is expected to meet Bulgaria's MoD later this month.

The Independent cites Sandy Morris, an analyst at ABN Amro, as saying that Gripen might have the best chance at winning the contract because its JAS 39 jet is cheaper than the Eurofighter, which he estimated costs about ВЈ50m per plane.

The manufacturer has won similar contracts in the Czech Republic and Hungary. "These have proved pretty happy hunting grounds for Gripen," said Morris. "They have proved themselves quite nimble."

Bulgaria is currently reliant on a fleet of Russian-made MiG 29 jets but is understood to be interested in replacing them with between 16 and 20 planes, which could easily push the total value of the contract past USD 1 M. A request for information is the first step in a bidding process, which can take several years.

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