fighter aircraft: Singapore to replace its ageing F-16 fighter jets with F-35 warplanes


SINGAPORE: Singapore will replace its ageing F-16 fighter jets with F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the defence ministry announced on Friday, as the city-state opts for the US warplane over European and Chinese-made stealth fighters.

The announcement ends years of speculation that Singapore would eventually decide on the fifth-generation F-35 as a replacement for the F-16s.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in June last year had said that Singapore was evaluating a range of options, including Lockheed Martin’s F-35, Europe’s Eurofighter Typhoon and Chinese-made stealth fighters to replace F-16s.

The RSAF is expected to acquire a “small number” of the F-35 JSF for a full evaluation. This follows a five-year technical evaluation by the RSAF and Defence Science and Technology Agency.

“The technical evaluation also 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,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

“In the next phase, MINDEF will discuss details with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35 JSFs for Singapore’s defence capabilities,” it added.

In a Facebook post on Friday, the defence minister said this phase might take nine to 12 months, adding that relevant agencies will speak to their US counterparts to “move the process forward”.

Details that will be discussed include price, quantity and which variant of the jet to buy, as well as issues like logistical requirements and the training of pilots.

The F-35A – the conventional take-off and landing variant – costs USD 89.2 million, according to maker Lockheed Martin. It is believed that Singapore is interested in the B variant, which costs more and can take off from shorter runways and land vertically, according to a Channel News Asia report.

If discussions are successful, Singapore will proceed to buy a few F-35s for a full evaluation. The length of this phase is unclear and will also depend on developments during tests by other militaries which operate the F-35.

What is clear, however, is that the defence ministry is working on a timeline that will not jeopardise the replacement of the F-16s, which face obsolescence beyond 2030. It is understood that the defence ministry is still on track to meet this target.

“Our RSAF’s F-16s that were in service since 1998 will have to retire soon after 2030, even after their mid-life upgrades,” Ng said.

“That’s not very far away, just over 10 years, to acquire their replacement and, just as important, to build the logistic support and train pilots individually and as a fleet to guard our skies,” he said.

The radar-evading F-35 is packed with advanced sensors that allow it to see enemies earlier. One such sensor projects a 360-degree view on the inside of pilots’ helmet visors, enabling them to see through and around the jet.

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