October 10, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Today, Singapore sent a clear signal to Lockheed Martin that it was not prepared to tie itself to one supplier of fighter aircraft when it excluded the US defence contractor from a key competition.
The decision came as a boost to the European fighter industry, which has struggled to win export orders, with both France's Dassault and Eurofighter joining Boeing of the US in the final round.
Russian rival Sukhoi fell at the first hurdle as the island state narrowed the list of potential replacements for its ageing A-4 ground attack aircraft from six to three.
The initial requirement is small with Singapore
looking to buy just eight aircraft. A follow-on order for a further 12 to 16 aircraft would follow with the potential for a total order in excess of 50 aircraft.
The Singapore competition is important to the tactical fighter makers because it is expected to be one of the last before Lockeed's new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF
) is ready early in the next decade.
The exclusion of Lockheed, which had offered the latest version of its F-16, came as a shock to analysts. The US company had been widely tipped to win the contest because Singapore already has more than 70 F-16s and the current requirement was perceived as an interim acquisition ahead of JSF.
Singapore has already signalled its intention to buy the JSF and Friday's exclusion of Lockheed suggests it has decided it did not want to become reliant on a single supplier.
Boeing, which had offered two aircraft, remains in the competition with the F-15 after the F-18 was excluded. The F-15 is a proven aircraft that can perform both ground attack and air defence. It recently won a hard-fought and controversial competition in South Korea
, beating Dassault's Rafale.
France is still the only country to order the Rafale. The aircraft has lost every competition it has entered and failure to win in Singapore would almost certainly kill its export hopes and drive up the procurement costs for the French military.
The two will face stiff competition from the Eurofighter Typhoon, which has been jointly developed by BAE
Systems of the UK, the German and Spanish units of EADS and Finmeccanica of Italy
and is just entering service with four European air forces.
The Typhoon has so far won one export - a $2.1bn order for 18 aircraft from Austria - and is waiting for the Greek government to finalise its decision in principle to order 60 jets.
Singapore is expected to select the winning aircraft late next year or in 2005.