Singapore Joins Elite ‘F-35 Club’ To Operate Both Variants Of Stealth Fighters; To Acquire 8 F-35A Jets

Singapore has announced the purchase of eight F-35A Lightning II fighters to bolster its air power. The acquisition will put Singapore in an ‘elite club’ that operates both variants of the F-35 — the US, Italy, and Japan being others.

The announcement was made by Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen on February 28 during a Ministry of Defense budget debate in the parliament. The Minister noted that the aircraft would be delivered to the Royal Singapore Air Force by the end of this decade.

This purchase would bring the total number of fifth-generation US-built fighter aircraft in the RSAF’s fleet to 20, adding to the 12 F-35 fighters of the “B” variant it currently has on order. The F-35 aircraft, when operational, will elevate Singapore’s air force to the “premier league,” Ng Eng claimed.

The announcement follows the purchase of eight F-35B aircraft last year after the initial acquisition of four F-35Bs in 2020. Elaborating on why the country decided to buy a different variant of the aircraft, Ng Eng told the Parliament that the RSAF’s capabilities will be enhanced by the distinct strengths of the two F-35 types.

“The F-35As are designed for greater endurance – they have the ability to carry payloads of higher capacity,” he said. “They complement the F-35Bs’ short take-off and vertical landing capability… which provides more operational flexibility (in land-scarce Singapore).

When the country announced the purchase of F-35B jets, experts deduced the decision to be in consonance with the geographical and operational needs of this small island state.

The Southeast Asian island state most likely chose the F-35B because the aircraft could take off fully loaded and land vertically on its 600-foot runway.

Additionally, military watchers noted that acquiring a Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STVTOL) aircraft would reduce the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s reliance on long runways and reduce the possibility that an attack on one of its airfields could have disastrous consequences.

Ng Eng stated that F-35 prices are now more competitive due to a robust order flow for the aircraft worldwide, and the country was exploiting this “window of opportunity” to strengthen its air force.

Although the Defense Ministry did not disclose the cost of the eight F-35As, US government records show that, in its most recent production batch, the cost of an F-35A will be US$82.5 million (S$111 million), while the cost of an F-35B will be US$109 million.

File Image: F-35A Lightning II

He said that with about 2,500 F-35s on order worldwide, the pipeline is full, and the price is now more competitive, on a level with Boeing’s F-15EX.

The procurement of the F-35A may require Singapore’s Defense Ministry to deprioritize other projects. “But we’ve done our calculations, and we think this is the best time to put the order for the F-35As,” he said.

Backing the decision to acquire more F-35 jets, Ng Eng stated that more than 900 F-35s have been used in operations all over the world, including strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as well as reconnaissance flights to find and identify Russian forces’ surface-to-air missile installations in Ukraine.

He further noted that several new states, including Germany and Switzerland, have joined the program as a result of its combat accomplishments, and current clients, like South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom, have placed more orders.

F-35 Proliferating In The Indo Pacific

Along with Australia, Japan, and South Korea, Singapore is one of the four nations in the Indo-Pacific region to purchase F-35 aircraft. Singapore’s aging F-16 fleet, which is scheduled for retirement in the middle of the 2030s, will be replaced by F-35 aircraft.

The F-35A, F-35B, and F-15SG fighter jets will make up the RSAF’s future combat force.

Singapore made it clear at the time of signing the deal for F-35B aircraft last year that the acquisition was for its defense and deterrent and was not intended to harm any other nation. Nonetheless, specialists have pointed out that it does show the nation’s rising anxiety over the assertive Chinese posture in Asia.

Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN, “Singapore probably does not trust China’s assurances that its South China Sea claims are benign, without military intentions and will not result in China taking control of air and sea commerce.”

F-35B STOVL Lightning II aircraft

China, which essentially claims the whole South China Sea as its sovereign territory, and Singapore are at odds over where Singapore is located on the western approaches to the sea. It does, however, have a stake in the maritime routes that traverse the region and may be blocked in the event of hostilities.

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The acquisition of additional F-35 jets also reflects a wider inclination for the fifth-generation aircraft in the region. US allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, have their respective operational fleets of US-imported F-35 fighter jets and the US also maintains rotational presence of the jets in the region.

However, Singapore would be the only country to operate the F-35B from land bases. It is believed that the F-35B STOVL variant would be helpful if China attacked the airbases in the region since this aircraft does not need runways to take off.

It helps that the aircraft’s price has plummeted. As previously reported by EurAsian Times, the F-15EX aircraft, which is being acquired by another Southeast Asian country, Indonesia, costs roughly $90 million, which is almost $7.5 million more than the most recent pricing for an F-35A.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin announced recently that it plans to continue producing F-35 stealth fighters at a constant rate despite an increase in demand worldwide and rumors that the US may cut back on its aircraft purchase next year.