Singapore in 'final stages' of buying 4 F-35 fighter jets: Ng Eng Hen

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A US Air Force F-35B Lightning II fighter jet performing an aerial display during the Singapore Airshow media preview on 9 February. (PHOTO: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
A US Air Force F-35B Lightning II fighter jet performing an aerial display during the Singapore Airshow media preview on 9 February. (PHOTO: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) is in the “final stages” of acquiring four F-35B Lighting II multi-role combat aircraft, with an option to buy eight more, after receiving approval from the US government and Congress.

This was revealed by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Monday (2 March), during his ministry’s Committee of Supply (COS) debate.

“When delivered, which we hope to be around 2026, the F-35Bs will be deployed in Continental US for training and in-depth evaluation,” said Dr Ng.

He noted that Singapore had chosen the F-35B variant of the aircraft due to its ability to take-off from a shorter runway and land vertically – an “important feature in land scarce Singapore”.

“F-35Bs performed in the recent Singapore Airshow and their ability to swivel 360 degrees was simply, as some people said, ‘awesome’,” he added.

More than this, however, the aircraft is also equipped with a full suite of sensors and fighting capabilities, said Dr Ng.

In January, the US government gave approval for Singapore to obtain up to 12 F-35s – developed by Lockheed Martin – at an estimated cost of US$2.75 billion.

The planned purchase of the aircraft was announced in Mindef’s COS debate last year, during which Dr Ng shared the plan to build the “next-generation” Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Main problems ironed out

In response to a question by Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim on the issues surrounding the aircraft, Dr Ng said the acquisitions of F-35s around the world would lead to there being “a few thousand platforms used by many, many militaries”.

Calling it a good position to be in, Dr Ng said “there are many vested interests for many countries who plan their air defence systems based on that acquisition”.

While there are issues related to maintenance and parts, the aircraft’s systems need time to mature, according to Dr Ng.

“If you speak to the pilots and the technical side...they are quite confident the main problems have been ironed out and that the platform will reach a steady state in which it is operational,” said Dr Ng.

‘More militarised’ Asia arena

Earlier in his speech, Dr Ng highlighted the need for Singapore to adapt its military to the current context, which includes a “more militarised and contested” Asia arena at an “inflexion point”.

Among the key players, Dr Ng said, the US has made it clear that the Indo Pacific is now its “priority theatre” because of China, and has moved more military assets and troops to its bases in Japan, South Korea and Australia.

China has also expanded its blue water capability and air power, and the recent moves by the US are likely to accelerate the pace of the People’s Liberation Army’s modernisation.

European powers such as France and the UK are also stepping up their presence through the deployment of more ships in the region.

“For Singapore, people watch these developments ever so closely, carefully trying to preserve space for ourselves, to maintain our sovereignty and pursue our own interest. We have no desire to take sides or be caught in the crossfire,” said Dr Ng.

“And so far, we have maintained independence and space for ourselves, but as contestation increases in this region, it will be increasingly difficult to do so,” he added.

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