Romania’s top national security body has approved a plan to replace Soviet-made MiG-21 LanceR fighters with second-hand U.S. F-16 Falcon jets, the president’s office said on its website on Wednesday.
The Romanian government will send a proposal to acquire 24 used F-16 fighters to parliament for a vote after the Supreme Defense Council, headed by President Traian Basescu, approved the plan late on Tuesday.

“Because Romania does not have the financial resources needed to acquire new multi-role planes, the Supreme Defense Council approved the request of the Defense Ministry to acquire 24 F-16 fighters,” the president’s website said.

The service life of several dozen MiG-21 fighter jets, developed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau in the mid-1950s and upgraded for the Romanian Air Force by Elbit of Israel and Aerostar S.A. of Romania in the 1990’s, expires in 2013.

According to open sources, only 48 MiG-21s are still in service with the Romanian Air Force.

Unofficial media reports earlier said that the U.S. government was ready to give the F-16s for free, if Romania would take responsibility for modernizing them, training the pilots and upgrading flight strips to accommodate the jets.
Romania, a former Warsaw Pact member which joined NATO in 2004, has been seeking closer ties with its more powerful Western allies, especially the United States, to recover from the current deep economic crisis.

In February, Bucharest offered the United States to host U.S. medium-range interceptor missiles as part of revamped shield after U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped the Bush administration plans for a radar and interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland last year.

Romania’s move has irked Russia, which considers the placement of U.S. missile defenses near its borders as a threat to national security.