LUKE AIR FORCE BASE (Arizona) • On the sidelines of Exercise Forging Sabre, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen took time out yesterday to get a close-up look at the United States Air Force F-35A joint strike fighter, fuelling speculation Singapore might be moving closer to its decision on whether to buy the Lockheed Martin fifth-generation fighter jet.
He spent about 45 minutes at the F-35 Academic Training Centre and the 61st Fighter Squadron which operates the F-35s.
Also present were the Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou; Deputy Secretary (Policy) Keith Tan; and the head of air operations, Brigadier-General Kelvin Khong, among others.
They were briefed by Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Gette, who commands the 61st Fighter Squadron. Luke Air Force Base houses not only the F-35, but also the F-16 squadrons.
Dr Ng's visit to the F-35A squadron comes two years after he saw the F-35B model in action. Used by the US Marine Corps, the F-35B variant takes off from shorter runways but lands like a helicopter. The F-35A model, however, is configured differently, as it takes off and lands in the conventional way.
Dr Ng had said previously that Singapore was "seriously considering" buying F-35 jets but was in no hurry to replace its fleet of F-5s.
He said in a 2013 interview after viewing the F-35B model: "We recognise that there are aspects to consider, and we will make our deliberate decision... We are in no particular hurry, but we are seriously considering it."
The F-35 programme took a hit in confidence recently, with one of its customers - Canada - announcing that it is likely to scrap its 65-plane order because the aircraft is deemed too expensive.