In an announcement on Friday, Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said that it made the decision following the completion of a technical evaluation conducted together with the Southeast Asian island nation’s Defence Science and Technology Agency. Singapore expects to buy a “small number” of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for a full evaluation after it identified the jet as the “most suitable replacement” for its ageing F-16s. Singapore will next discuss details with relevant parties in the United States before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35.
Singapore’s defense minister Ng Eng Hen added that this process is expected to take “nine to 12 months.” The deal would almost certainly be through the United States Foreign Military Sales program. Ng had previously said that the F-16s will start to be retired around 2030, although neither he nor the ministry’s announcement indicated how many F-35s will initially be acquired. Also not revealed was the variants that Singapore would buy. A ministry spokesperson declined to provide further details when asked by Defense News.
The announcement ends years of speculation that Singapore would eventually decide on the fifth-generation F-35 as a replacement for the F-16s. 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 has been a security cooperative partner in the F-35 program since 2003, and first disclosed its interest in the F-35 in 2013. Subsequent 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. The decision is now clear as MINDEF has opted for the radar-evading F-35, which 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. F-35s can also hunt in packs, gathering enemy data across a larger area and automatically sharing it with each other via a more secure network. To that end, MINDEF will also evaluate if the F-35 can work well with other platforms in the Singapore Armed Forces.