Source: Mr Ng Eng Hen Facebook page.

RSAF and DSTA complete technical evaluation of F-16 replacement with F-35

The technical evaluation to select the next generation fighter to replace the F-16s has been completed by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been identified as the most suitable replacement to maintain the RSAF’s capabilities.

In a press release on Friday (18 January), the Ministry of Defence (MinDef) stated that the F-16s will have to retire soon after 2030.

However, the ministry said that the technical evaluation also concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet.

In the next phase, MINDEF noted that it will discuss details with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35 JSFs for Singapore’s defence capabilities.

In a Facebook post on the same day, Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen said that the technical evaluation  took longer than expected – more than five years – as they had to go through in detail specifications and needs, which they could only do after developmental flight testing of the F-35s was completed in early 2018.

“They have decided that the F-35 would be the most suitable replacement fighter,” he wrote.

The minister also said that the F-16s were in service since 1998, even after their mid-life upgrades.

“That’s not very far away, just over 10 years, to acquire their replacement and, just as important, to build the logistic support and train pilots individually and as a fleet to guard our skies,” he wrote.

Mr Ng then said that the agencies will now have to speak to their US counterparts to move the process forward, which may take 9 – 12 months before a decision is made.

“Even then, we want to procure a few planes first, to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the acquisition of a full fleet. We must prepare well and cater enough time to replace our F-16s,” he ended.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engined, all-weather stealth multirole fighters.

The fifth-generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground-attack and air-superiority missions. It has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) variant.

The F-35 descends from the Lockheed Martin X-35, the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. It is built by Lockheed and many subcontractors, including Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, and BAE Systems.

The United States principally funds F-35 development, with additional funding from other NATO members and close U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

These funders generally receive subcontracts to manufacture components for the aircraft; for example, Turkey is the sole supplier of several F-35 parts. Several other countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the aircraft.

As the largest and most expensive military program, the F-35 is the subject of much scrutiny and criticism in the U.S. and in other countries.

 In 2013 and 2014, critics argued that the plane was “plagued with design flaws”, with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed “to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time,” instead of identifying and fixing “defects before firing up its production line”.

By 2014, the program was “$163 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule”. Critics also contend that the program’s high sunk costs and political momentum make it “too big to kill”.

The F-35 first flew on 15 December 2006. In July 2015, the United States Marines declared its first squadron of F-35B fighters ready for deployment; the U.S. Air Force followed suit with its first squadron of F-35As in August 2016.

 In 2018, the F-35 was used in combat for the first time, by the Israeli Air Force.

The United States plans to buy 2,663 F-35s, which will provide the bulk of the crewed tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps in coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled until 2037 with a projected service life up to 2070.