The United States government has given the green light for the sale of up to a dozen elite stealth fighter jets and related equipment to Singapore for US$2.75 billion (S$3.7 billion), it said on Thursday.
Singapore first announced its plans to buy the F-35B jets from Lockheed Martin - to replace its ageing F-16 fleet, which has been in service since 1998 - in March last year.
Singapore's purchase of the F-35B jets, a pricier variant that can take off from shorter runways and land vertically, must still be approved by the US Congress, which is expected to give the green light. It was formally notified of the proposed sale on Thursday and will have 30 days to review it.
"Singapore is a strategic friend and major security cooperation partner and an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region," the US Defence Department said in a statement.
It said that the proposed sale of F-35s would augment Singapore's operational aircraft inventory and enhance its air-to-air and air-to-ground self-defence capability.
The F-35s would add to Singapore's effective deterrence to defend its borders and contribute to coalition operations with other allied and partner forces, added the Defence Department.
It said that Singapore requested to buy four F-35Bs, with the op-tion to buy eight more of the same aircraft, as well as up to 13 engines, electronic warfare systems and related support and logistics services.
In a statement yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said it submitted the request to the US on April 5 last year.
Mindef said the Congressional Notification (CN) of Singapore's request adheres to the formal requirement within the US for possible sale of military equipment to foreign countries.
"It is routine and Congress has 30 days to respond to the CN," the ministry said in the statement, adding that "the CN is not a formal contract of purchase".
"If the CN passes, formal terms will be negotiated for the letter of offer and acceptance," said Mindef.
Singapore would be the fourth country in the Asia-Pacific region to own F-35 jets, after Australia, Japan and South Korea, said S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies airpower analyst Ben Ho.
Mr Ho said: "The acquisition of America's most advanced warplane would mark a quantum leap in capability for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) fighter force and the Singapore Armed Forces as a whole. The F-15s and F-16s now in RSAF service are considered 'fourth-generation' aircraft, while the F-35 is a fifth-generation one."
The F-35's advanced sensor array allows it to send target infor-mation to friendly aircraft and surface forces, for instance relaying information to the non-stealthy F-15 jet without the latter activating its sensors and compromising itself, he said.
The F-35B jets cost US$115 million a unit, compared with the F-35A model, which has conventional take-off and landing capabilities and a US$90 million price tag, according to figures cited by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen during the debate on Mindef's budget in March last year.
Dr Ng noted that the price of the F-35 jets had been falling steadily over the past decade due to healthy orders. The price of each unit has since come down even further.
Defence technology analyst Kelvin Wong of military publication Jane's said that the more costly F-35B model would sacrifice range and internal payload capacity compared with the conventional F-35A, for the ability to do short take-offs and vertical landings. It can operate from facilities with little infrastructure and take off fully loaded in distances as short as 167m.
He noted that the F-35B would be the RSAF's first aircraft with fixed wings that has the ability to do short take-offs and vertical landings. It was also a good idea for Singapore to acquire four F-35Bs first and evaluate their performance in Singapore's hot and humid tropical climate before committing to a larger buy, he said.