Singapore is close to completing its evaluation of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which it sees as a possible fit for its future requirements.
"Though the F-35 aircraft is still in development, we are nonetheless interested in the platform for our future needs," defence minister Ng Eng Hen said in a speech to parliament on 11 March. "The F-35 will be the vanguard of next generation fighter aircraft when operational."
Ng added that the nation's force of Northrop F-5S fighters is at the end of its service life, and that its Lockheed F-16C/Ds are at their "mid-way mark". According to Flightglobal's World Air Force's directory, Singapore operates 26 F-5s and 60 F-16s.
"For the longer term, the Republic of Singapore Air Force has identified the F-35 as a suitable aircraft to further modernise our fighter fleet," Ng added. "We are now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35." Nonetheless, he stopped short of committing to the type.
"[The defence ministry] will have to be satisfied that this state-of-the-art multi-role fighter meets our long-term needs, is on track to be operationally capable and, most importantly, is a cost-effective platform," he said. "I've given many necessary caveats before we make a final decision, but we are evaluating the platform."
Singapore is a security cooperation participant in the F-35 programme, which provides access to programme data and allows it to request special studies.
Ng gave no sense about whether Singapore will hold a tender for new fighters, the number of new aircraft that will be obtained, or the timeframe for a new aircraft acquisition.
One alternative to the F-35 could be additional Boeing F-15SG aircraft, of which Singapore operates 24. Another alternative could be an F-15 variant based on the F-15 Silent Eagle that Boeing has proposed in South Korea's F-X III competition.