The Republic of Singapore Air force (RSAF) and Singapore Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) have selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 to replace the RSAF’s fleet of F-16 fighters.
The intensive study and technical evaluation process commenced in 2013 but was paused for two years due to ongoing delays to the JSF program and a decision to upgrade the RSAF’s F-16s, but resumed in 2017. Along with Israel, Singapore has been a JSF Program Security Cooperation Participant (SCP) since 2004, which has given it an insight into the program’s development and status throughout its often-troubled development.
“Happy to report that DSTA Defence Science and Technology Agency and RSAF have completed their technical evaluation for the replacement,” a social media post by Singapore’s Defence Minister, Ng Eng Hen reads.
“It took longer than expected – more than five years – as they had to go through in detail specifications and needs, which they could only do after developmental flight testing of the F-35s was completed in early 2018. They have decided that the F-35 would be the most suitable replacement fighter.”
The RSAF currently operates about 60 F-16C/D Block 52s and Block 52 D+ Advanced models, the oldest of which entered service in 1998. All of the F-16s are currently being upgraded to the latest F-16V standard with AESA radars and other improvements, and the RSAF maintains a training detachment of the jets at Luke AFB in Arizona.
The evaluation recommended the acquisition initially of a small number of F-35s for a full evaluation and assessment before the RSAF commits to a full fleet of between 40 and 60 aircraft to equip three squadrons. It is unclear whether the RSAF favours the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A model, or the short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, or a mix of both.
“Our agencies will now have to speak to their US counterparts to move the process forward, which may take 9 – 12 months before a decision is made,” Mr Ng said.
“Even then, we want to procure a few planes first, to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the acquisition of a full fleet. We must prepare well and cater enough time to replace our F-16s.”
The island nation has very limited airspace in which to operate and land upon which to build runways and base facilities, so despite its reduced combat capabilities over the A model, the F-35B has always been seen as a practical option. The F-35B also has the advantage of being able to deploy aboard Singapore Navy and allied amphibious carriers if required.
The RSAF also operates 36-40 Boeing F-15SG fighters, and a small number of Northrop F-5E/Fs in the air combat roles.