Singapore will purchase eight F-35A stealth jets to complement its fleet of 12 F-35B jets

An F-35A Lockheed Martin fighter jet prepares to land on a motorway, in Tervo, Finland September 21, 2023. NTB/Ole Andreas Vekve via REUTERS

IThe Ministry of Defense will buy eight F-35A fighter jets, and this will complement the 12 F-35B jets that it has already ordered, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said.

The plans to buy the F-35A, a variant of the F-35 that can travel farther and carry a higher load of weapons than the F-35B variant, came just a year after he announced that Mindef would be acquiring eight more F-35Bs on top of four that it had ordered in 2020.

Dr Ng was speaking in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 28) during a debate on his ministry’s budget, where he offered a pessimistic account of geopolitical developments.

“If you had asked me even five years ago, I would have said that the current generations… Gen X, millennials and Gen Z… would be just as lucky as the Merdeka Generation,” Dr Ng said.

However, developments such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict and the trade war between the United States and China have altered his assessment, he said.

“The risk of regional and even global conflict even in the next decade has become non-zero… I do not make this assessment lightly.”

He added that should Singapore be invaded, Mindef and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) “do not plan on the basis that we can depend on another country to come to our rescue”.

“If Singaporeans will not or cannot defend Singapore, there is no backstop, that is the simple truth. A strong SAF acts as a deterrence against aggression towards us and keeps adventurism at bay.”

To that end, it would be “too costly” not to put in the necessary spending on defence, Dr Ng said.

Mindef has therefore projected an expenditure in the coming financial year of around S$20.2 billion, a 2.5 per cent increase from the last financial year.

Compared with 2022, the increase is higher, but this is because the ministry is gradually resuming projects and activities disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, he explained.

Speaking to the media, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Zhang Jianwei said that the planned acquisition of the eight F-35A fighter jets is part of a “long-term strategic approach to build up our future fighter fleet”.

He is head of the next-generation fighter project office with the air plans department of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

The F-35As and the F-35Bs will “complement each other” to achieve an “optimal next-generation fleet” for RSAF, he added.

The F-35B has the capability to take off over a shorter distance than conventional fighter aircraft and can also perform vertical landings on areas smaller than a conventional runway.

“The F-35B’s short take-off and vertical landing capabilities will reduce our runway dependencies and give us operational flexibility,” LTC Zhang said.

As for the F-35A, which conducts conventional take-offs and landings, it has greater endurance and the ability to carry payloads of greater capacities, which complements the F-35Bs.

“Operating both variants will therefore allow the RSAF to better meet our range of operational requirements.”

LTC Zhang also said that the acquisition of the F-35As will support the replacement programme for the ageing F16s, which will be drawn down from the mid-2030s.

The price at which Mindef had purchased the F-35As and F-35Bs was not disclosed. A 2023 article in defence technology magazine Breaking Defence put the cost of an F-35A at about US$82.5 million (around S$110 million) and an F-35B as US$109 million.

Dr Ng said on Wednesday that the F-35As are slated to be delivered around 2030. The eight F-35Bs ordered last year are expected to arrive in 2028, while the first four F-35Bs that were ordered in 2020 will be delivered by 2026.

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