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".
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