Mindef Singapore to ensure safety of F-35 Joint Strike fighter jets prior to acquisition, in the aftermath of Japanese crash

In the aftermath of the Japanese F-3A fighter jet crash last Tue (9 Apr), Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (Mindef) assured that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will be “safe to operate” prior to obtaining them.

Responding to TODAY‘s queries regarding whether the crash on Tue will influence Mindef’s decision to acquire the new jets, a Mindef spokesperson said: “Mindef and the Singapore Armed Forces will acquire four F-35 JSFs initially, with an option of a subsequent eight if we decide to proceed”.

“This will allow us to conduct a full evaluation of the aircraft’s capabilities and suitability,” the spokesperson added.

“We will ensure that the F-35 JSF meets our requirements, and is safe to operate before acquiring it for our defence needs.”

The Japan Times reported Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) officers in Tokyo as saying last Wed (10 Apr) that “the incident is the first crash involving an F-35A fighter anywhere in the world”.

However, it is not the first reported incident involving an F-35 fighter jet.

Defence News noted that an F-35B belonging to the US Marine Corps had crashed in South Carolina in Sep last year. The cause of the crash is still being investigated.

The cause of the crash last Tue, believed to have taken place at sea off Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, has also yet to be determined, and in the meantime, Japan’s Defence Ministry has suspended all remaining F-3A flights at Misawa Air Base “until further notice”, added The Japan Times.

Japan’s Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya added that the ministry will currently channel all of its efforts into “saving the life” of the now missing Major Akinori Hosomi, a 40-year-old veteran pilot who was manning the F-35A, reported Defense News.

Iwaya, however, added that Japan does not intend to revise its procurement of more F-35s for the time being.

The fighter jet disappeared soon after Hosomi instructed the other pilots participating in the exercise to terminate the training portion of the flight, according to Defense News.

Mindef announced intention to acquire F-35s in Mar due to “opportune time” as a result of prices falling steadily; critics wary of “design flaws”

Earlier last month, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced in Parliament on 1 Mar that Singapore was planning to issue a Letter of Request (LOR) to the United States for the purpose of purchasing the F-35s.

Dr Ng told the House in his Mindef Committee of Supply debate speech that “Our LOR will request an initial acquisition of four F-35s, with the option of a subsequent eight if we decide to proceed.

“As required by US law for foreign military sales, the US Congress must approve the sale of F-35s,” he added.

“The Defence Science and Technology Agency’s (DSTA) assessment is that now is an opportune time to put in Singapore’s request,” noted Dr Ng.

Touching on the price of the F-35 fighter jets, he said: “The current unit price of the F-35 ranges from US$90 million (S$122 million) to US$115 million per aircraft, comparable to what we have paid for our F-15SGs.”

The F-35 fighter jet is a collaboration between U.S.-based manufacturer Lockheed Martin and nine countries including the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and Canada, The Japan Times learnt.

The F-35, however, has been widely criticised in the US 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”, in addition to its high sunk costs and political momentum, making it “too big to kill”.