By Peter Knott
Singapore’s acquisition of the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II has taken another step forward, with the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency announcing the State Department’s approval for the city-state island nation’s request to acquire 12 F-35B short take off vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft.
The initial approval is for four aircraft with a further eight options, and the cost of the deal is estimated to total US$2.75bn (A$4bn) including 13 engines, electronic warfare systems and other support systems such as an initial training services, technical publications and a spares package, and access to the data reprogramming lab.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has long expressed an interest in acquiring the F-35 to replace its fleet of 60 Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D fighters which it expects to phase out from 2030. It has long been reported that Singapore was most keen on the STOVL F-35B, although it had also requested information on all three F-35 variants.
Given the size of Singapore’s F-16 fleet, it is also almost certain that more F-35s will be acquired in the future, with the 12 approved likely to be just an initial batch.
The acquisition of the F-35 will be another step forward in Singapore’s efforts to transform its armed forces into an integrated, networked force, with the jet’s advanced networked systems expected to enhance the Singaporean military’s capabilities in this regard.
The STOVL variant of the F-35 will enhance the RSAF’s ability to generate air power in times of conflict if access to conventional airbase facilities are denied. Singapore is a little over 700 square kilometres in size, with its main island less than 50 km at its widest point, and it is planned one of its three main airbases will be closed in the early 2020s to free up land for commercial purposes.
There have been suggestions that the F-35Bs could potentially operate on Singapore’s upcoming Joint Multi Mission Ships (JMMS), a new amphibious vessel design with enhanced aviation facilities that is due to enter service in the 2030s, although this is unlikely with the JMMS mission likely to be focused on helicopter operations.