This year's Singapore Airshow is expected to include a heavy Chinese presence, along with discussions of F-35 purchases and F-16 upgrades. During the 2012 show, seen here, the value of deals made surpassed $31 billion. (AFP/Getty Images)
TAIPEI — F-16 upgrade programs and F-35 deals in the region are expected to dominate the Singapore Airshow this week, as Lockheed Martin squares off with BAE Systems to be prime contractor for Singapore’s F-16 upgrade effort.
Singapore had a tough 2013. The US government arrested Singaporean business tycoon Leonard Glenn Francis of Glenn Defense Marine Asia on allegations of bribing US Navy officials. Then riots broke out in Little India. And then Singapore government officials were called on the carpet by regional neighbors after espionage allegations by Edward Snowden identified Singapore as a member of the “Five Eyes” spy network for the US National Security Agency.
There was hope that the Singapore Airshow, running Feb. 11 to Feb. 16, would be hassle-free for the Singaporean government. Yet there are signals out of Washington indicating that Singapore’s program to upgrade its fleet of 60 F-16C/D fighter jets could be derailed if the US Air Force defunds the Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (CAPES).
CAPES would have provided Singapore’s F-16s with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, avionics, mission computers and weapon suites. Under the program, the US Air Force would have upgraded 300 of its F-16s, but with budget cuts, the remaining money for the program could be moved over to a service-life extension program.
Without the US Air Force paying for most of the CAPES non-recurring costs, both Taiwan, which has signed a letter of offer and acceptance, and Singapore, which is expected to sign on to the CAPES program soon, would have to pay all of the engineering costs and other developmental charges. Costs are expected to skyrocket for both countries.
“Any argument that because the [US Air Force] had signed [the letter] with Taiwan and Singapore at a certain cost figure, and therefore guarantee completion of their F-16 upgrade program without any price impact if something serious happens to CAPES, is simply not valid,” a US defense analyst said.
“The logic for this is simple,” he said. “It costs a certain amount of money to develop CAPES technology, which Singapore’s and Taiwan’s upgrade program will use. If the [US Air Force] does not have the money to fund CAPES, then whoever wants to use that technology would have to come up with the shortfall to pay for it.
“Since US law specifically forbids use of US funding to support foreign military sales programs, then the shortfall would have to be paid for by Singapore and Taiwan.”
This could be bad news for Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, and Northrop Grumman’s AESA scalable agile beam radar (SABR). The US selected them for CAPES.
However, in South Korea, BAE Systems was selected as the prime contractor, and Raytheon’s advanced combat radar (RACR) AESA beat Northrop’s SABR for the upgrade of 134 KF-16C/Ds. If Singapore turns its back on the CAPES program and then the program is defunded, the Singaporeans might turn to BAE and Raytheon for an alternative.
Singapore has options, such as the F-35 stealth jet, for which Singapore is a security cooperative participant. Taiwan, however, has been unable to persuade the US to sell it new F-16C/D fighters, and F-35s seem unrealistic, given China’s successful lobbying campaign in Washington against the release of new F-16s.
Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are all working on programs to acquire the F-35.
There will be a mock display of the F-35 at the show and static displays of the F-15SG and F-16D fighters, as well as the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and AH-6i Little Bird helicopter, along with the Eurofighter Typhoon and Russia’s Yak-130 trainer jet.
Highlights of this year’s air show include the Asia Pacific Security Conference, with papers delivered by Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group; Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow for the Military Transformations Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies; Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of US Pacific Air Forces; and Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies.
There also will be a China Business Forum for commercial aviation with Yang Guo Qing, vice president of the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as a highlighted speaker.
“China plans to build 70 new airports, expand 100 existing airports and purchase more than 900 planes by 2015,” said Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China. China is moving toward becoming the world’s No. 2 aviation market in the next two decades, with plans to field more than 10,000 new general aviation aircraft by 2020. China requires 5,000 new commercial aircraft in the next 20 years, worth $600 billion.
This year’s show will see a larger Chinese aerospace presence, though no aircraft will be participating. During the 2012 airshow, the Chinese sent their top aviation companies and they will be returning this year: China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp. (CATIC), Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China and AMECO Beijing. CATIC will once again have a chalet.
There also will be a variety of new Chinese companies at this show, including Zhejiang Xibeihu Special Vehicle, Xiamen Limbach Aircraft Engines, Haite Group, Donica Aviation Engineering, Chemtura China Holding, Jiangsu Aviation Industrial and Beijing ZhongHangZhi Technology, which builds the rotary-driven surveillance TC and TD220 unmanned aerial vehicles.
China also is building a variety of unique fighter jets, including the fifth-generation J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters and the J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighter. And there are rumors of a vertical takeoff and landing fighter and a fighter-bomber in development.
Compared to the West, the Asia-Pacific region has been one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors in commercial and military aviation, said Jimmy Lau, the show’s managing director. During the 2010 Singapore Airshow, deals surpassing $10 billion in value were announced. In 2012, the value of the deals made was more than $31 billion.
Lau, with Experia Events, said this reflects the Singapore Airshow’s “strategic importance as a premier platform for companies seeking to springboard into Asia, as well as for Asian businesses to tap into global opportunities and strike new deals.”
One of the most bizarre lists of banned weapons at any air show is posted on the Singapore Airshow website. These include the following: brass knuckles, machetes, bearing scrappers, walking sticks with concealed daggers, spear guns, nunchucks, crossbows and industrial acid. ■