Commentary

The F-35: Singapore’s next generation fighter?

The F-35: Singapore’s next generation fighter?
Singapore’s interest in the JSF can be traced back to 2003, when it joined the JSF programme as a Security Co-operation Participant. Photo: Reuters
Published: April 2, 3:58 AM
Updated: April 2, 5:00 AM
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Singapore is poised to make a decision on acquiring new fighter aircraft to replace an ageing segment of its fleet.

During last month’s Committee of Supply debate, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen expressed Singapore’s desire to acquire new military platforms, particularly for the air force and navy. Noting that two of the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF’s) main air combat platforms are either approaching mid-life or the end of their operational life cycles, Dr Ng revealed that his ministry was close to completing its evaluation of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as a potential replacement for its ageing fighters.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance, the RSAF’s current air combat fleet comprises 24 Boeing F-15SGs, 20 Lockheed Martin F-16Cs and 40 F-16Ds, as well as 28 Northrop F-5S and nine F-5T Tiger IIs. While the F-15SGs were recently acquired in 2008 as a replacement for its retired A-4SU Super Skyhawk fleet, the F-16C/Ds entered service in the late 1990s while the F-5S/Ts have been operational since the late 1970s.

THE JSF PROGRAMME: A TROUBLED ENDEAVOUR

The JSF programme, now costing a record US$396 billion (S$492 billion), is an ambitious international combat aircraft development and acquisition project involving the United States and 10 foreign partners — Britain, Italy, Canada, Norway, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and potentially South Korea.

Its key selling point is a relatively affordable, yet stealthy “fifth generation” (characterised by highly advanced avionics and radar-evading features) air combat platform, capable of replacing a variety of existing aircraft in air force inventories today.

In comparison, the F-22 Raptor, the only other fifth generation Western aircraft currently in existence, cost around US$74 billion to develop and build.

However, the programme is seven years behind schedule and continues to be beset by technical complications and significant cost overruns. While these issues are par for the course with any large-scale research and development programme, the latter issue has become the stuff of nightmares for partners.

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