Singapore’s defence minister has reaffirmed the nation’s interest in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), but says there is no great rush to order the type.
In a joint press conference with his US counterpart in Washington DC, Singapore defence minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore is “in no particular hurry because our [Lockheed Martin] F-16s are still very operational, they are due for upgrades but it is a serious consideration…”
Observers of the Singapore air force have tended to take the view that Singapore will first replace its 26 obsolescent Northrop F-5s with F-35s. An F-16 replacement programme is perhaps two decades away, however.
Singapore has not formally announced an upgrade programme for its 60 F-16s, but any such programme would likely extend the capability of these aircraft until the 2030s.
Ng’s comments came just days after he witnessed a flight demonstration at Luke AFB by a US Marine Corps F-35B.
“The US marines were kind enough to have a demonstration of the F-35Bs and it's quite an engineering marvel,” says Ng. “We recognise that there are aspects to consider and we will make our deliberate decision because as I said we are in no particular hurry, but we are seriously considering.”
Singapore’s interest in the F-35 has long been known. As security cooperation participant in the programme, it has access to programme data and is allowed to request special studies. In March 2013, Ng told the parliament that Singapore was close to completing its evaluation of the type.
Experts also feel that Singapore may have a strong predilection for the F-35B. Singapore’s small size and lack of strategic depth makes its air bases highly vulnerable in the event of a conflict. The F-35B's ability to operate from austere or makeshift airfields would, experts say, give the Singapore air force more flexibility in a conflict.