SOFIA (AP) – Officials of leading US and British defense industry companies convened in Bulgaria’s capital yesterday to discuss with local company and government officials business opportunities that may develop after the Balkan country joins NATO next year. The meeting includes senior executives of US corporations, among them Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and IBM; British BAE Systems Plc and THALES Netherlands BV. Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said Bulgaria was already working with Lockheed Martin on a new system of air space surveillance and on a field communication system for special operations army units in a project led by British BAE Systems. Svinarov said replacing the army’s Soviet-era communications systems, upgrading Soviet-made Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopter gunships and building a new multifunctional warship for the Bulgarian navy would be other priorities. Bulgarian companies could serve as subcontractors to the Western weapons manufacturers, he said. «The technological know-how, skilled personnel and other strategic advantages may be appreciated by Bulgaria’s partners in NATO,» Svinarov told the meeting. Speaking on a separate issue, Lockheed Martin International Senior Director David Potts said the United States and Europe should create a single defense industry market to develop capabilities adequate to contemporary global security challenges. «Our European industrial colleagues, we believe, agree that it would be better to have an industry that is globally competitive and that has access to the US market than one that is confined within the European fortress, protected but undernourished,» Potts said.