SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Air Force chief has given his vote of confidence in the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet amid the country’s efforts to buy new fifth-generation aircraft. However, he acknowledged that challenges still remain in the acquisition process, particularly in regard to logistics.
In a written reply to questions by the media, Maj. Gen. Kelvin Khong said the Republic of Singapore Air Force “is convinced that the F-35 program has matured to a stage where confidence in the delivery of a cost-effective 5th Generation is high.”
He added that based on the service’s own estimates, “the total cost of acquiring and operating an F-35B over the life of the aircraft would be comparable” to that of Singapore’s existing Boeing F-15SGs.
He also revealed that the first four F-35Bs that Singapore is looking to buy would be located in the continental United States for initial training and testing, with ongoing discussions taking place between both countries for more specific locations. The testing and evaluation phase will include the ability to integrate the F-35 into the RSAF’s own war-fighting systems.
Khong said that although most of the F-35’s developmental issues have been resolved in recent years, “some work still needs to be done on issues like logistics sustainment for the aircraft,” describing an August 2019 article in the New York Times Magazine by Defense News’ air warfare reporter, Valerie Insinna, as a “fair representation of the F-35 program.”
Khong also stressed that Singapore chose to go after the F-35 following “careful consideration.” He noted that the country had been a security cooperation participant in the F-35 program since 2004 “to better understand the program’s development,” during which Singapore had access to high-fidelity simulators.
Singapore submitted a letter of request for four F-35Bs with an option for eight more in April 2019. The U.S. State Department approved the possible sale in January this year, with the next step being a letter of offer and acceptance. There had been suggestions that a signing ceremony would take place at the ongoing Singapore Airshow, but this has not occurred.
U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord was due to visit the show, however she was one of those who canceled their visit when the Pentagon reduced the size of its delegation over the new coronavirus outbreak.
The F-35B would be a game-changer for Singapore. Khong noted that the "B" model’s short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing capability is “important” for the small southeast Asian island nation, obviating the need for long runways to generate air power.
Singapore is due to reduce the number of air bases capable of hosting combat aircraft from three to two in the early part of the next decade, with the assets currently based at Paya Lebar, northeast Singapore, to be split between the remaining fast-jet bases.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.