Fewer types in service and planned fighter and helicopter acquisitions could help rationalise armed forces Singapore aims to peg back the number of aircraft types operated by its armed forces as part of plans to move forward with the replacement of its ageing McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk fighters and Bell UH-1H transport helicopters.

Defence minister Tony Tan says planning calls for the Republic of Singapore Air Force to be equipped with a "maximum" of three fighter types, but this could be reduced to two if the air force's Northrop Grumman F-5s are eventually replaced as well.

Tan says a formal request for information (RFI) will be issued to potential bidders for the A-4 replacement contract by the end of the year.

A request for proposals will be issued to a shortlist of candidates "12-18 months" later, ahead of a final selection in 2004.

"The views of the air force will be very important in helping the Ministry of Defence decide which aircraft to select," says Tan. The new fighter is due to become operational by the end of the decade when the A-4s will be phased out, and the initial buy is expected to be 20-24 aircraft.

The Boeing F-15 and F/A-18E/F, Dassault Aviation Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Lockheed Martin F-16 block 60 are among the aircraft being evaluated, says Tan. A key aspect of the battle will revolve around Singapore's need to base some of its aircraft and personnel off-shore due to limited space and training requirements.

Tan confirms the defence ministry is also reviewing whether to widen its requirement for a new maritime helicopter to equip La Fayette-class frigates to encompass additional roles such as the replacement of UH-1H transport helicopters. "Like most air forces in the world we are aiming to reduce the number of types in our fleet," he says.

An RFI detailing Singapore's helicopter requirements was released to industry in late April (Flight International, 15-21 May). Meanwhile, Tan says Singapore "would certainly be interested in looking at" the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle (UAV) though it continues to study the development of an indigenous UAV known as the Lalee.

"We definitely feel [the Lalee] has a role," says Tan, though there are "a number of technical difficulties still to be resolved."

Source: Flight International