MINDEF to acquire eight more F-35B fighter aircraftThe decision comes after a robust evaluation of these jets following the purchase of the first four aircraft.
Report by Thrina Tham / Photos by PIONEER photographers
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will purchase eight more F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, to be added to its fleet by the end of the decade.
This follows the agreement of purchase of four F-35Bs first, which was inked in 2020. Since then, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) was given exclusive access to information and facilities of the aircraft, allowing them to conduct robust evaluations.
"All of these have given us valuable insights (on the F-35Bs)", said Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, who announced the acquisition of additional jets during his speech at the Committee of Supply debate on the defence budget on 24 Feb.
"MINDEF and the SAF have concluded that the F-35 is the best choice to meet our defence needs now and in the future," said Dr Ng.
The F-35Bs will replace the ageing F-16 jets, which have been in service since 1998 and are reaching obsolescence globally from the mid-2030s.
To evaluate the aircraft, a F-35 project team – comprising personnel from the RSAF and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) – were allowed access to information and facilities exclusive to F-35 users.
"There were technical and engineering aspects of the evaluation, in which we were able to ascertain (its capabilities), both with the United States government and (manufacturer) Lockheed Martin," said Colonel (COL) Daxson Yap, who heads the RSAF's Air Plans Department. He was speaking at a media brief on 16 Feb, prior to the defence budget debate.
Some of the RSAF's pilots have flown in high-fidelity simulators capable of replicating the F-35's operational capabilities. They also had professional exchanges and interactions with more experienced F-35 operators, such as the US Marine Corps (USMC).
Last August, they flew alongside F-35s in a large-scale multilateral air combat exercise, Exercise Pitch Black, held in Australia.
These experiences provided information for the RSAF and DSTA project team to study the aircraft's operational capabilities and its ability to integrate with the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF's) warfighting systems, said Director Air Systems at DSTA, Mr Ang Jer Meng.
"This gives us the confidence in the F-35 and we will be working with the US government to acquire an additional eight," he said.
Stealthy, lethal jet
Designed with an advanced radar-absorbent material, the F-35B is able to evade enemy detection and operate in contested environments. It has short take-off and vertical landing capabilities, which will be useful given Singapore's land scarcity.
It is also equipped with advanced sensors that allow it to collect and analyse information, and share this with other friendly assets.
"The ability to fuse different sources of intelligence and, more importantly, the ability to share that (information) gives a battlespace awareness that multiplies the effectiveness of the wider SAF warfighting systems," said COL Yap.
He added that the F-35B is an important long-term capability for the RSAF, given that the F-16 fleet will soon be obsolete from the mid-2030s.
"It is important that we induct new capabilities that can ensure that a Singapore has a capable fleet of fighter aircraft that can safeguard our security and sovereignty."