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SAF in ‘no hurry’ to make decision on buying F-35 fighter jets: Ng Eng Hen

ARIZONA — The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is still evaluating whether to buy the F-35 fighter jets from the United States and it is in “no hurry” to make a decision, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen today (Dec 12), following a visit the previous day to the Luke Air Force Base where he was briefed on the F-35’s capabilities. It was announced in 2013 that the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) was considering buying the F-35s.

SAF in ‘no hurry’ to make decision on buying F-35 fighter jets: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen meeting personnel involved in Exercise Forging Sabre at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in Arizona. Photo:Raj Nadarajan

ARIZONA — The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is still evaluating whether to buy the F-35 fighter jets from the United States and it is in “no hurry” to make a decision, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen today (Dec 12), following a visit the previous day to the Luke Air Force Base where he was briefed on the F-35’s capabilities. It was announced in 2013 that the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) was considering buying the F-35s.

Touted as one of the world’s most advanced warplane, the F-35 comes in three variants: F-35A, which operates on a conventional runway; F-35B, which is optimised for short takeoffs and vertical landings; and F-35C, which is configured for the US Navy’s aircraft carriers. An F-35A bought in 2018 and delivered in 2020 will cost US$85 million, for example.

Dr Ng said he was “very pleased” with the progress of the F-35 programme. “Two years ago when we were here, these hangars were not filled (with the F-35s).… within a year and a half, they’ve clocked in more than 3000 sorties, 5000 hours - that’s a lot of flying hours. And that gives us confidence that the programme is progressing on track,” he said. ”So the more mature the programme is, the more steady the production lines for (the F-35s), the more boxes are ticked when we evaluate it but you know we are in no hurry to decide,” said Dr Ng.

Dr Ng stressed that the SAF will “buy what we need”. It is the “integration of the various aspects... the ability to find precise options for specific targets and needs, is what will define our SAF”, he said. “So I think we’re progressing very well and we’ll just keep doing that,” he added.

The SAF’s ability to keep up training “at high tempo and with complex scenarios” is boosted by “steady” defence expenditure, said Dr Ng who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to the SAF’s Exercise Forging Sabre, which is taking place from Dec 1 to 16.

“We don’t have ups and downs, we don’t cancel programmes… We (have) a very strong defence technology community, very strong maintenance, so all round, I think that provides us the kind of robustness and resilient system to be able to, in each exercise, learn something and… improve on it,” he said.

The ongoing biennal war games held at the Arizona desert are the largest and most complex to date. Dr Ng witnessed an integrated live-firing mission for 90 minutes from the cockpit of an F-15SG fighter jet flown 18,000 ft above ground. The mission entailed F-15SG and F-16 fighter jets destroying two mobile rocket launchers detected by two Heron-1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Dr Ng said: “Ten years ago, our F-15 programme was in its infancy… We have come a long way. Things are working like clockwork, and it is not always (what) happens… It’s because we do it constantly, just with regularity and the access to the training that makes a difference.”

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