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11 Mar 05. The Defense Ministry announced Friday that it would not sign an expected deal to upgrade the country’s Russian-made military helicopter fleet with Israel’s Elbit Systems and the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin Corp. Last December, the ministry had announced that the Israeli-U.S. consortium had won the order with a bid of US$74m (€57m) over the other main bidders — British BAE Systems (US$166m; €128m), Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) (US$147m; €113m) and French Sagem SA (US$107m; €82m).

But on Friday, the ministry said in a statement that “The procedure for choosing a contractor to repair and upgrade Bulgarian air force’s Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters has been terminated by the Minister of Defense. “It said that the Elbit offer “did not meet the previously announced requirements.”

A spokesman for the ministry, Lt. Col. Sebastian Dobrev, refused to specify which requirements had not been met, but said that “discrepancies” were found during “regular examination” of documents submitted by the Israeli company.

He was unable to say whether and when a new procedure will be launched. In February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reportedly criticized the deal at a NATO conference in Nice, France, saying the work by American and Israeli companies would amount to counterfeiting because they are not licensed to work with Soviet technology.

His Bulgarian counterpart, Nikolai Svinarov, rejected such criticism, arguing that no Russian certification was needed for modernization along NATO lines. It was not clear if Russian objections led to the cancellation of the deal, and Svinarov was not immediately available for comment. The deal to repair and upgrade 12 Mi-24 combat helicopters and six Mi-17 transport helicopters was part of an ambitious program under which the former Soviet bloc country has allocated nearly US$1bn (€750m) to upgrade its armed forces in line with NATO standards. The government adopted the program shortly after Bulgaria joined the western military alliance last April along with six other ex-communist eastern European nations. (Source: AP)

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