MELBOURNE, Australia — Singapore will seek to buy four Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters for a start, with an option to purchase eight more, according to the southeast Asian nation’s defense minister.

Speaking in Parliament on Friday, Ng Eng Hen said Singapore will submit a letter of request to the United States for the purchase, adding that “Singapore has the endorsement of both the U.S. administration and the Department of Defense for our proposed purchase of F-35s.”

He did not disclose which version of the F-35 Singapore will request when asked by lawmakers, although he was quoted as ruling out buying the “aircraft-carrier version” of the F-35, and told Parliament that the unit price of the aircraft “ranges from U.S. $90 million to U.S. $115 million.”

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The prices he quoted are the respective unit prices of the F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing version and the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing version under the latest LRIP 11 contract signed in September 2018 between the DoD and manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Earlier reports suggested the land-scarce island nation is keen on the F-35B for its ability to operate from short runways.

He also told Parliament that the total cost of ownership of an F-35 fleet including maintenance across its lifespan will be similar to Singapore’s current fleet of Boeing F-15SG Eagles. He added, however, that the Defence Ministry “will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Defense to optimize operating and maintenance costs.”

Singapore currently operates a fleet of 60 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52/52+ Fighting Falcons and 40 F-15SGs. It wants the F-35 to replace the former, starting from around 2030.

The country typically makes its combat aircraft acquisitions in small, incremental batches, so the relatively small order is not much of a surprise. If the option for the additional aircraft is picked up, Singapore will have the numbers to launch a training detachment, likely based in the United States, to train pilots and maintainers.

This is similar to the acquisition structure Singapore adopted for its F-15s and F-16s, with the country currently maintaining a joint U.S. Air Force-Republic of Singapore Air Force training unit for each of those aircraft types in the U.S. made up of personnel from both countries, in Idaho and Arizona respectively.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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