Saturday, 19 January 2019

Singapore selects F-35 jets to replace ageing F-16 fighters

RSAF may first buy a small number to evaluate their capabilities before deciding on a full fleet
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2019

Singapore has identified the United States F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the most suitable aircraft to be its next-generation fighter jet.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said this yesterday as it revealed that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Defence Science and Technology Agency have completed their technical evaluation to select the replacement for the ageing F-16s. The F-35 JSF has been dubbed the world's most advanced fighter jet.

MINDEF said the evaluation concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet.

In the next phase, MINDEF will enter into talks with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to purchase the fighter jet.

No further details were given on the exact number or variants of the F-35s - manufactured by Lockheed Martin - that will be acquired.

The F-35 has stealth functions that make it difficult to detect by enemy radar. It also has network capabilities in fusing information from other F-35s and friendly forces to build up a picture of the battle space.

There are three variants of the aircraft, including a short take-off and vertical landing version that can land like a helicopter.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote that the talks with US counterparts could take nine to 12 months before a decision is made.

"Even then, we want to procure a few planes first to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the full acquisition of a full fleet," he added.

"We must prepare well and cater enough time to replace our F-16s."

Dr Ng pointed out that the RSAF's F-16s, in service since 1998, will have to retire soon after 2030 even after their mid-life upgrades.

"That is not very far away, just over 10 years, to acquire their replacement and, just as important, to build the logistic support and train pilots individually and as a fleet to guard our skies," he wrote.

Dr Ng added that the technical evaluation took longer than expected at more than five years.

He noted that the delay was because some part of the evaluation could go through only after developmental flight testing of the F-35s was completed early last year.

Options for Singapore's new 4.5 or fifth-generation stealth fighters included the Eurofighter Typhoons, Russian-made Sukhois and Chinese-made J-20s.

Singapore had been observing the F-35 programme since 2004, when it joined as a security cooperation participant.

It could join 13 other countries that have signed up for the F-35 programme, including Japan and South Korea in Asia.

Mr David Boey, a defence blogger and member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence, said the F-35 will "sharpen the air force's operational and technological edge and strengthen our national security".

MINDEF replacing F-16 jets: Starting with a few F-35s a prudent move, say analysts
With an F-35B costing $156 million, move will give MINDEF time for thorough evaluation and room to manoeuvre
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2019

The Ministry of Defence's plan to acquire a small number of United States F-35 fighter jets for further evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before a full purchase is a responsible move, said analysts.

MINDEF said yesterday that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) have completed their technical evaluation of the aircraft - a process which took more than five years.

Singapore will now enter into discussions with US counterparts on issues such as the costs, variants, and interoperability of the F-35 with current systems before acquiring "a small number" of F-35s for a full evaluation.

Mr David Boey, a member of MINDEF's Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence, said buying a small number first shows MINDEF and DSTA are "pacing the acquisition responsibly".

He said it is prudent for Singapore to evaluate the fighter thoroughly before introducing it fleet-wide, given the F-35's cost.

An F-35A costs about US$89 million (S$121 million), while the short take-off/vertical landing variant, the F-35B, which Singapore is reportedly interested in, costs US$115 million.

"Previous acquisitions that started with modest numbers were expanded to formidable strength after the platforms proved their worth," added Mr Boey.

"For instance, the RSAF started with just eight F-16s in the late 1980s and now has a fleet of around 60 F-16s, making this the largest F-16 fleet in South-east Asia."

Mr Mike Yeo, Asia reporter for Defense News website and magazine, said some countries adopted the practice of buying a few before confirming a fleetwide purchase.

"This is not a unique situation, with both the Netherlands and Australia getting an initial two aircraft each for test and evaluation in the US before increasing their respective aircraft orders later," he added.

Senior analyst Kelvin Wong of military publication Jane's by IHS Markit said the completion of the technical evaluation marked the halfway point in replacing the F-16s with the F-35s.

He said: "It is a clever move by MINDEF to start with a small number, giving them some room to manoeuvre before committing to a full purchase, should the F-35 programme go wrong."

This is because how the F-35 performs in actual operations is still up in the air. Britain, for instance, declared initial operating capability for its F-35 fleet only earlier this month, said Mr Wong.

The F-35 programme has faced delays, ballooning production costs and production flaws in the past.

In October last year, the Pentagon temporarily suspended operations of its fleet of F-35 fighter jets for 24 to 48 hours to check for possible faulty fuel tubes in the engines of the planes. This came after the first F-35 crashed near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina a month earlier. The pilot survived after ejecting.

"Extended evaluation of the aircraft in local conditions is therefore prudent, especially since the actual cost of sustaining it in the long term is still not yet fully understood," said Mr Wong.


* Parliament: Singapore to buy 4 F-35 fighter jets, with option to buy 8 more, says Ng Eng Hen
Opportune time for purchase, says Ng Eng Hen; it's now awaiting US approval
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2019

Singapore will seek to buy four US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft initially, with an option for eight more, as part of efforts to build the next-generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

He added that Singapore deems it an "opportune time" now to put in a request for the F-35 - dubbed the world's most advanced fighter jet - as its price has been falling due to healthy orders from the United States and 10 other countries.

The unit price of the F-35 ranges from US$90 million (S$122 million) to US$115 million, which is comparable to what Singapore paid for its F-15SGs, said Dr Ng. He added that the total cost of ownership of an F-35 fleet, including maintenance across its lifespan, will also be similar to that for the F-15SGs.

He said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will continue to work with the United States Department of Defence to optimise operating and maintenance costs, and added that Singapore would not be buying the F-35C model that is built for aircraft carrier operations.

As required by US law for foreign military sales, the US Congress must approve the sale of F-35s, but Singapore has the endorsement of the US administration and the US Department of Defence, said Dr Ng, revealing that US President Donald Trump wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month welcoming Singapore's plans.

Speaking in a debate on MINDEF's budget, Dr Ng also outlined how plans are progressing well across the other services in building the next-generation SAF, one that can better respond to security threats despite an expected manpower shortage by 2030 due to Singapore's falling birth rates.

For instance, advanced multi-role combat vessels, which can deploy unmanned air and sea drones, will replace the navy's current fleet of missile corvettes by 2030.

There will also be a more protected and mobile army with platforms such as the next-generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle, set to be delivered this year as replacement for the M113 Ultras, and supported by Leopard tanks.

Coastal homeland security efforts will also be enhanced, with the SAF's network of optical sensors and coastal radars being expanded, said Dr Ng.

On the cyber front, he disclosed that the Defence Cyber Security Centre and Defence Cyber Incident Response Teams, which come under the Defence Cyber Organisation, have been set up.

Dr Ng said he "makes no bones" about the need for significant and steady investments required to develop a capable SAF as he thanked MPs and Singaporeans for their unwavering support. He said the 4.8 per cent spike in MINDEF's budget this year - outstripping the 3 per cent to 4 per cent previously committed - arose because "certain projects or acquisitions have matured and therefore we had to spend more".

"However, the overall defence expenditure will even out in subsequent years," said Dr Ng.

In his speech, he also noted how Singapore has had challenges with Malaysia in the past months, with Malaysian government vessels repeatedly entering Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas, and how two vessels remain there.

Stressing that MINDEF will continue with its defence diplomacy efforts, he said it will partner countries whose interests are aligned with those of Singapore, and who share its desire for "inclusiveness, peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for the law".

"But at the same time, we must ensure that the SAF is strong and adequate to defend our rights when diplomacy fails and when others choose to do us harm or ignore our rights," said Dr Ng.

**  Purchase of F-35s not a move against any country, says MINDEF
Move for Singapore's own defence deterrence, it says after CNN report points to China
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 11 Mar 2019

The acquisition of F-35 fighter jets by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is for Singapore's own defence deterrence and not directed against, or to align itself with, any particular country, said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).

It was responding yesterday to a recent report by American news outlet CNN which wrote that analysts said Singapore's decision to acquire the F-35 was "indicative of growing concerns within Asia regarding China's regional ambitions".

Published on Thursday last week, the report also suggested that the acquisition carried a message to China as Singapore will become "the fourth American ally" in the Pacific region to own F-35s, after Australia, Japan and South Korea.

The report, titled "The message to China behind Singapore's US F-35 jet plan", had also said that Singapore is a "close and long-time US ally" that "even hosts a US Navy facility".

In a statement, MINDEF said that these assertions were erroneous.

"Unlike other Asian countries who have acquired F-35s, Singapore is not a treaty ally of the US," it said.

"While Singapore has allowed United States ships and aircraft usage of some of our military facilities, this is not a reaction to any recent developments. It is a long-standing arrangement dating back to 1990," added MINDEF.

Singapore is known as a security partner of the US. The Sembawang-based US Logistics Group Western Pacific provides logistics and maintenance support to US ships in the western Pacific and Indian oceans.

Officials from Singapore and the US said last week that talks to renew the 1990 agreement that grants the US access to military facilities in Singapore are ongoing.

Britain also has a naval repair and logistics support facility in Sembawang.

The CNN report was published after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's announcement in Parliament on March 1 that Singapore would be seeking to buy four US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for a start, with an option for eight more.

The F-35 - dubbed one of the world's most advanced fighter jets - has been identified as a replacement for Singapore's ageing fleet of F-16s, which face obsolescence beyond 2030.

Dr Ng also told Parliament that Singapore has the endorsement of both the US administration and the Department of Defence for its proposed purchase of the F-35s, but the US Congress must still approve it.

MINDEF also said yesterday that Singapore's defence policies are predicated on "an inclusive security architecture", which is exemplified by the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

This group consists of all 10 Asean countries and eight other countries, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US.

RSAF and DSTA Complete Technical Evaluation of F-16 Replacement -18 Jan 2019

RSAF's F-15SG declared fully operational -18 Sep 2013

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