The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) stressed that the acquisition of F-35 fighter jets by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is for Singapore’s own defence deterrence and not directed against, or to align itself with, any particular country.
The ministry was responding to a report by American news outlet CNN, titled “The message to China behind Singapore’s US F-35 jet plan.” which wrote that analysts said Singapore’s decision to acquire the F-35 was “indicative of growing concerns within Asia regarding China’s regional ambitions”.
Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said in the report, “Singapore probably does not trust China’s assurances that its South China Sea claims are benign, without military intentions and will not result in China taking control of air and sea commerce.”
In the report, it was also said that the acquisition carried a message to China as Singapore will become “the fourth American ally” in the Pacific region to own F-35s, after Australia, Japan and South Korea, as well as saying that Singapore is a “close and long-time US ally” that “even hosts a US Navy facility”.
MINDEF rebutted the statement, saying that these assertions were erroneous.
“Unlike other Asian countries who have acquired F-35s, Singapore is not a treaty ally of the US. While Singapore has allowed United States ships and aircraft usage of some of our military facilities, this is not a reaction to any recent developments. It is a long-standing arrangement dating back to 1990,” Mindef wrote.
Dubbed one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets – the model has been identified as a replacement for Singapore’s ageing fleet of F-16s, which face obsolescence beyond 2030. Eariier in 18 January this year, the ministry had announced that 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.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced in Parliament on that Singapore would be seeking to buy four US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for a start, with an option for eight more.
In the Parliament, Dr Ng stated that Singapore has the endorsement of both the US administration and the Department of Defence for its proposed purchase of the F-35s. However, he noted that the US Congress must still approve it.
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.
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.