Singapore's F-35 jet purchase part of longstanding bilateral relationship: US official

A US F-35B fighter jet which will feature in the upcoming Singapore Airshow, at Changi Air Base on Feb 7, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Singapore's recent purchase of the F-35B fighter jets is part of the vital and longstanding relationship shared between the Republic and the United States, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Mr Rene Clarke Cooper, said on Monday (Feb 10).

The purchase of the jets is also not just a matter of protecting Singapore's sovereignty, but a contribution to regional peace and stability as well, he added.

Speaking to global media via telephone hook-up, Mr Cooper also said that the purchase is part of a "longer-term process" with Singapore.

"The US-Singapore partnership is one very clear tangible example of the United States' commitment to a very free and open Indo-Pacific for all states in the region," he added.

The US government has approved the sale of up to 12 F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jets to Singapore, the first sale to a country in South-east Asia.

Four jets are on order for initial evaluation, with an option for eight more.

Each jet will cost around US$115 million (S$160 million), making it the most expensive and advanced in Singapore's arsenal.

The purchase of such jets increases interoperability with the US and other partner states, Mr Cooper said, adding that the sale was a "total package".

"The approach that the United States takes toward foreign military sales is inclusive of not just the material but also training, maintenance and support," he said.

"It's not just a transaction. There's a long aspect of training, maintenance and sustainment that comes with that sale."

In a separate interview on Monday, the commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, General Charles Brown Jr, said the presence of the US at the Singapore Airshow demonstrated its commitment to the Republic.

"While I'm here at this air show, I'll have 10 engagements with regional partners... so that's a great opportunity for me to engage with and continue to build those relationships and talk of areas of mutual interest," he said.

Mr Cooper and Gen Brown are part of the US delegation to the Singapore Airshow, an aerospace and defence exhibition held at the Changi Exhibition Centre from Tuesday to Sunday.

Senior US government officials, including from the departments of state, defence and commerce, plan to participate in the biennial event.

There are also more than 140 US firms that will showcase their latest technologies at the US pavilion and chalets, which make up nearly 30 per cent of the indoor exhibit space.

Responding to a question, Gen Brown said on Monday that the US delegation was not worried about the coronavirus outbreak and was satisfied with the precautions taken by the Singapore Government. The US contingent remains the largest, although Mr Cooper spoke of "some adjustments" in personnel numbers.

Gen Brown highlighted key developments in defence ties last year, such as the renewal of the memorandum of understanding on the US' use of facilities in Singapore that was first signed in 1990.

Last December, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper also signed an agreement to create a permanent Republic of Singapore Air Force fighter training detachment in Guam.

"All these build up on the long-term relationship," added Gen Brown. "There's over 1,000 Singapore military personnel training in the US, primarily with the air force. So we've got a longstanding partnership, and it's key to some of the stability in the region."

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