Singapore has officially stated its intention to upgrade its Lockheed Martin F-16 C/D aircraft.
“The [Singapore air force] will also be looking to upgrade its fighter fleet,” defence minister Ng Eng Hen said in comments to the parliament. “We plan to upgrade our F-16s to modernise their avionics and extend their lifespan.”
Ng was responding to a question in the parliament about Singapore’s plans to shut down its primary air base at Paya Lebar to make room for development in the land scarce nation, and how this would affect the country’s airpower.
Although this is the first time that Singapore has publicly stated its intention to upgrade its F-16s, industry observers have long expected that Singapore will upgrade some, if not all, of its 60 F-16s.
Ng gave no details as to the possible timing of the upgrade, but industry sources say that it is likely to commence in 2015.
Given that 4,500 F-16s have been delivered since the 1970s and the aircraft is operated by 26 countries, the upgrade market for the type is huge.
Indeed, Lockheed Martin chose the venue of the 2012 Singapore air show to announce its F-16V upgrade programme. During a presentation at the show, Lockheed said that most legacy F-16s can be upgraded to the F-16V standard, which is roughly equivalent to the F-16 Block 60.
A Singapore F-16 upgrade programme will invite aggressive competition from several companies. Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems are likely to compete for the avionics contract.
Boeing has expressed interest in the market as well.
A key element of any Singapore F-16 upgrade will be the addition of an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Raytheon will pitch its Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) and Northrop Grumman its Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) for this part of the requirement.
In South Korea earlier this year, Raytheon and BAE Systems won contracts to upgrade 134 Block-standard F-16s.
Lockheed, however, selected SABR to upgrade USAF F-16s. This resulted in SABR winning Taiwan’s F-16 upgrade programme by default, as Taipei had effectively outsourced its AESA selection to Lockheed.
Ng also reiterated Singapore's interest in the Lockheed Martin F-35. Media reports and US officials have said that Singapore is likely to buy the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant of the aircraft.