Wikileaks: sole-source route sought for F-16 fighter sale
US defence business and Romanian officials sought a sole-source route for the sale of F-16s to Romania, according to a US Embassy cable released by Wikileaks from November 2007
As a condition of joining NATO in 2004, Romania needed to upgrade its Soviet-era MiG-21 Lancer Aircraft through purchasing a new air combat force, with the other major bidders including Sweden’s Saab-manufactured JAS 39 Gripen and the Italian-British-German-French Eurofighter Typhoon.
The cable, attributed to then-US Ambassador to Romania Nicolas Taubman, stated that American aerospace company Lockheed Martin, along with “allies in the Presidency and Ministry of Defense” were seeking a ‘sole-source’ route to the fighter plane decision. The cable revealed American frustration with EU policy regarding open auctions, implying that US business preferred direct deals with central Government, rather than those which are based on free market principles.
The cable alleged that Lockheed Martin and its Romanian ‘allies’ did not want to see the deal “tied up” in the Brussels bureaucracy by the F-16’s principal European competitors, Gripen and Eurofighter.
“This was always going to be a tricky exercise, with an expectation that supporters of a European fighter option would loudly cry foul,” stated the cable.
In 2004, US infrastructure firm Bechtel also won a ‘sole-source’ contract to build the 415 motorway Autostrada Transilvania, in a controversial deal criticised by the EU.
In March 2010 Romania pledged to purchase 24 second-hand F-16s, with the main part of the deal being Lockheed Martin’s maintenance costs and the fee for the jets’ modernisation. The purchase was estimated to cost one billion Euro.
In May 2010, the Swedes presented to lawmakers an offer for 24 new Gripen planes at the same price as the 24 American F-16 Block 25 planes, but with the Swedish offer also including financing and offset.
The Eurofighter consortium then presented a proposal to parliament for 24 slightly-used EF Tranche 1 planes.
The parliament’s defence committees wrote to the Government, asking it to run a competitive and transparent acquisition process for the fighters.
On the principle of sole-source procurement, Gripen-owned Saab issued a statement detailing: “We firmly believe that running an open and transparent fighter procurement tender will ensure that the best product, the best industrial package and the best price is achieved. This is without any doubt of the utmost importance to decision makers, operators and taxpayers. Tenders are strongly encouraged for public procurement programmes of this nature by the EU.”
Last August the Romanian Government was due to pay the 750 million USD in the first tranche for the acquisition for the F-16s, but has since failed to come up with the money.
For the next three years the Government has not allocated any budget to pay for the planes.
Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and France’s Dassault Rafale were also in the race for Romania’s military purchase