Lockheed Martin discusses whether Singapore may receive F-35 fighter jets, and reveals how some countries are considering buying the F-35A and F-35B. (Jeff Martin/Staff)

MELBOURNE, Australia ― Singapore will decide in the next few months on a new fighter to replace its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16 multirole fighters, with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from the same manufacturer seen as the prime candidate.

In an interview with media ahead of the southeast Asian island nation’s Armed Forces Day, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that despite ongoing upgrades, the F-16s face obsolescence beyond 2030. He added the country will make a definitive decision on its replacement in the next few months based on interoperability with Singapore’s current systems and platforms as well as the price.

Ng refused to be drawn into further details as to which fighter platforms Singapore is looking at, only saying that the BAE Systems Typhoon, the F-35, Russia’s Sukhois, and Chinese-made stealth fighters are “the usual suspects that you have to look at” when air forces are choosing a new combat platform.

However, Singapore has been evaluating the F-35 since 2013 and Ng had previously suggested that the type was suited to be the replacement for Singapore’s F-16s. Earlier reports suggested Singapore is keen on acquiring the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant, with the B-model’s STOVL capability seen as useful for Singapore, whose main island has an area of a mere 277 square miles and whose air bases are seen as vulnerable to a first strike.

Nevertheless, former head of the F-35 program Christopher Bogdan, said Singapore requested information on all three variants of the F-35, and the possibility of Singapore opting for the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A variant cannot be ruled out.

Singapore is a security cooperative participant of the F-35 program and is believed to have an eventual requirement of between 40 and 60 new fighters to replace its F-16s.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force, or RSAF, currently operates a fleet of 60 F-16C/D Block 52 and Advanced Block 52 aircraft delivered between 1998 and 2005. Twelve aircraft are currently assigned to a joint continuation training unit between the U.S. and Singapore air forces at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, while the remaining are split between three Singapore-based squadrons.

Singapore’s F-16s are currently being upgraded by Lockheed Martin with the upgrade program, which started in 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2022, including the addition of Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array radar, an improved identification, friend or foe system, as well as Link 16 data links.

During the interview, Ng also outlined some of the other upcoming procurement programs Singapore is looking at. These include new multirole combat vessels to replace six corvettes and new joint multimission ships to replace four amphibious ships in Singapore’s Navy, while the Army will replace its towed 155mm howitzers with a new self-propelled high-mobility artillery system in the 2020s.