January 22, 2019 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Singapore identified the F-35 Lightning II as the most suitable replacement for its fleet of F-16s and plans to buy a small number for evaluation purposes, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Friday.
JASDF F-35A #89-8710 is taking off at Nagoya AB for its very first flight on September 19th, 2018. [Photo by Sigekazu]
The Air Force’s F-16s that were in service since 1998 and will have to retire soon after 2030, even after their mid-life upgrades. A final decision on the purchases may take nine to 12 months according to Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen. This would give Singapore
10 years to acquire their replacement and to build the logistic support and train the pilots.
Singapore has an annual defense budget of $10.9 billion, the Straits Times reported in March 2018. Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon completed negotiations last September for an order of F-35s at $89.2 million each for the cheapest model including engines and an award fee.
The Ministry of Defence of Singapore (Mindef) said the evaluation concluded that the RSAF
should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet.
In the next phase, Mindef will enter into talks with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to purchase the fighter jet.
No further details were given on the exact number or variants of the F-35s - manufactured by Lockheed Martin - that will be acquired.
Alternatives for Singapore's new 4.5 or fifth-generation stealth fighters included the Eurofighter Typhoons, Russian-made Sukhois and Chinese-made J-20s.
Singapore had been observing the F-35 program since 2003, when it joined as a security cooperation participant. It could join 13 other countries that have signed up for the F-35 program, including Japan and South Korea
in Asia. Singapore first disclosed its interest in the F-35 in 2013. Reports suggested it was keen on the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B variant. It is believed Singapore has a requirement of 40-60 aircraft, or enough to make up two or three squadrons.
Singapore, which is a regional security partner of the United States, currently operates a fleet of 60 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D/D+ Fighting Falcon multirole fighters. These are a mix of 40 block 52
C/D aircraft and a further 20 newer F-16D+ Advanced Block 52s acquired in four batches between 1994 and 2001. Deliveries started in 1998, which would make the oldest of these 32 years old by 2030.
Twelve of the older Block 52s serve with a training detachment based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona embedded within a mixed USAF-RSAF squadron conducting continuation training for RSAF pilots with the remainder distributed among three Singapore-based squadrons. Singapore’s fleet of F-16s are currently being upgraded to F-16V standard, with the program expected to be completed in 2022 or 2023.