Romania plans to buy Patriot missiles from U.S. defense contractor Raytheon to help protect its airspace, Reuters reported Thursday.
A senior Defense Ministry official told Reuters that the purchase is a part of the NATO member’s plan to modernize its military and will slightly increase its annual spending on defense.
Romania has been a NATO member since 2004 and a strong U.S. ally in eastern Europe. The country’s defense budget was 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product in 2016 and is set at 2 percent this year — a NATO benchmark.
“The Patriot missile defense system is part of the multilevel air defense system of Romania's airspace. We're assessing all options to develop this program," top Gen. Nicolae Ionel Ciucă told reporters.
“It is important to say the program will start this year.”
The missiles would join six new General Dynamics-made F-16 fighter jets for an integrated air defense system. A U.S. ballistic missile defense station is already stationed in Romania.
A Raytheon spokesperson confirmed to Reuters that Romania has announced its intent to buy the Patriot missile.
"Raytheon has a longstanding relationship with Romania and will work closely with the U.S. and Romanian governments to ensure this NATO partner achieves its defense objectives,” the company said in a statement.
Thirteen countries including five NATO partners own Patriot systems.
Poland expects to sign a $7.6 billion deal with Raytheon to buy eight Patriot missile defense systems by the end of this year, its Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said last month.
The sale may add more tension to Russia-NATO relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow views the missile defense systems in eastern Europe as a "great danger" and will be forced to enhance its own missile strike capability.