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.