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Romania considering new fighter jets

BUCHAREST, Romania, May 14 (UPI) -- Wooing Romania's lawmakers, Eurofighter pledged that more than 5,000 skilled jobs could be created in the country if Bucharest shelved plans to buy Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighter jets, opting instead for the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The proposal was sounded by Maurizio De Mitri, a senior vice president at Alenia Aeronautica, the unit of Italy's Finmeccanica group, which is a member of the Eurofighter consortium.

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His proposal comes about two weeks after Romania approved a deal to buy 48 F-16 combat aircraft for $4.5 billion. Under the deal, half of the batch would include F-16C Block 50 planes with the rest include used models reconditioned to F-16C Block 25 standards.

The upgraded F-35 model initially considered by Romanian military officials was scrapped because of budgetary constraints that would have strained the country's economy by an additional $4 billion.

De Mitri outlined plans to sell Romania 24 Tranche 1 Typhoons, some of which have been flown by the Italian air force for the last seven years.

Defense News reported that the Eurofighter price, including logistical support and training, would be $1.3 billion. That would match the purchase price for the half of the Lockheed Martin F-16s that have been ordered.

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Romania's Supreme Defense Council approved the F-16 deal in March but this week the Senate Defense Commission called in representatives of Eurofighter and rival Saab "to hear," as it said, competing options.

Sweden's Saab has already pitched its flagship Gripen fighter. Officials said in April that they could sell Romania 24 new Gripen for roughly the same price pitched by Lockheed Martin for its F-16s. The deal would also include training, logistics support, 100 percent offset and easy payment terms.

Eurofighter's de Mitri this week matched that bid, arguing that the 100 percent offset deal, as well as technology transfer and local industrial participation, could generate 5,000 jobs locally.

"Romanian industry could be involved in a logistical support program similar to that seen in other Eurofighter partner nations, which is leading to record performances for the aircraft," a Eurofighter spokesman told Defense News.

"Our price also includes logistical support and training and we are also offering long-term repayment," de Mitri added.

It is understood that Romania could take delivery of the Eurofighters by as early as the end of 2011.

A final decision rests with the Romanian parliament. But Bucharest is not the only government seeking to save money on F-16 deals.

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Five years ago, Chile bought 10 new F-16s from the United States for an estimated $50 million each. It also purchased 18 used F-16s from the Netherlands for one-fifth of the price for each plane.

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