Singapore's air force to add more stealth fighters as it phases out older jets

Singapore's defence budget will increase 2.5% in the next fiscal year, to S$20.2 billion, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. - Reuters

SINGAPORE: Singapore will buy eight more F-35 stealth fighters, eventually replacing its older F-16s and putting the Singaporean air force "in the premier league" as regional threats grow, the city-state's defence minister said this week.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) would buy F-35As - a larger, longer-range variant of the Lockheed Martin Corp jets - to complement the 12 F-35Bs it has already ordered.

The first F-35Bs will be delivered to Singapore in 2026, Ng said.

The B model is capable of taking off and landing vertically, a crucial part of operating off ships, or in places without traditional runways.

"The F-35As are designed for greater endurance and have the ability to carry payloads of higher capacity," Ng said in explaining the decision to parliament. "They complement the F-35Bs, which have short take-off and vertical landing capability."

The purchase, and long-term replacement of its several dozen F-16s with F-35s starting in the mid-2030s, show the RSAF has noted the growing capability of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force, which has begun flying advanced aircraft such as the J-20B, said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

"This elevates Singapore even further ahead of other Southeast Asian air forces," Davis said, adding that with Australia, South Korea, Japan and the United States also flying F-35s in the region, there were opportunities for common maintenance and support arrangements.

Ng did not disclose the cost of the purchase during remarks to Singapore's parliament on Wednesday. The F-35 unit price can vary depending on customer and model; last year the U.S. Department of Defense awarded a $7.8 billion contract to Lockheed Martin for 126 F-35s.

Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the unit price or total value of the deal, saying in a statement it was "honoured that the Singaporean government has selected the F-35A as part of the RSAF's future fighter aircraft fleet".

Singapore's Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the unit cost or total cost of the aircraft.

Thousands of F-35s are in service with the United States and its allies globally.

Singapore's defence budget will increase 2.5% in the next fiscal year, to S$20.2 billion, Ng said.

"The risk of regional and even global conflict even in the next decade has become non-zero," Ng told parliament. "I do not make this assessment lightly."

(Reporting by Gerry Doyle; Additional reporting by Xinghui Kok; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan) - Reuters

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