Two US airbases shortlisted to host new RSAF F-35B aircraft

A US F-35B fighter jet in Singapore in 2018. Singapore expects to take delivery of four F-35B aircraft in 2026. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Two airbases in the United States have been shortlisted to host the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) next-generation F-35B fighter aircraft and its F-16 training detachment, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in a statement on Friday (May 4).

The preferred location is the Ebbing Air National Guard Base at Fort Smith in Arkansas, although Selfridge Air National Guard Base at Harrison Township in Michigan is also an option, should an environmental impact assessment find the Ebbing base unsuitable.

The decision was made by the US Defence Department in consultation with Mindef, with the move to be finalised in 2023. The new training centre will have space for up to 36 aircraft, including those purchased by other countries under the US' Foreign Military Sales programme.

In March 2019, Singapore announced its plans to buy the elite stealth fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its ageing F-16 fleet, which has been in service since 1998 and will be progressively retired after 2030. The F-35B jets are a pricier variant of the standard F-35 model, and are able to take off from shorter runways and land vertically.

The Republic expects to take delivery of four F-35B aircraft in 2026. All four will be deployed in the US for training and in-depth evaluation. Mindef has said previously that it will evaluate the F-35s fully before deciding to commit to a further eight aircraft.

In Friday's statement, Mindef said Ebbing Air National Guard Base was shortlisted following careful feasibility studies on both sides. This included looking at factors such as suitability of location and training area, as well as infrastructure and logistics support.

Locating the F-35Bs in the same place as the F-16s - which are currently based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona - will maximise opportunities for integrated training, it added. The US Air Force (USAF) added in a separate statement that ramp and airspace capacity at the Arizona base limit expansion.

"The F-35 programme is a multi-service, multinational effort that dramatically increases interoperability between the US and other F-35 partner nations," said acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth. He added that the USAF is "fully committed" to the F-35 as the cornerstone of its fighter fleet and looks forward to building stronger relationships with nations who want to work by its side.

Mindef also said that the RSAF looks forward to enhanced joint training and exchanges with F-35Bs from the USAF and US Marine Corps. "Such overseas training is important for the Singapore Armed Forces to overcome local airspace constraints and to conduct high-end realistic training."

The RSAF currently has two other training detachments in the US - one in Idaho for its F-15SG fighters and another in Arizona for Apache helicopters. Another fighter training detachment at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam is expected to be established by 2029.

Both countries also conduct regular military-to-military exchanges and training and courses, and also cooperate on defence technology.

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