MELBOURNE, Australia — The Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter appears to have secured another export success, with Singapore announcing that it has identified the type “as the most suitable replacement” for the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet of F-16s.

In an announcement on Friday, Singapore’s defense ministry said that it made the decision following the completion of a technical evaluation conducted together with the Southeast Asian island nation’s Defence Science and Technology Agency.

It added that “the technical evaluation also concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet.”

According to the ministry, Singapore will next discuss details with relevant parties in the United States before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35. Singapore’s defense minister Ng Eng Hen added that this process is expected to take “nine to 12 months.” The deal would almost certainly be through the United States Foreign Military Sales program.

Ng had previously said that the F-16s will start to be retired around 2030, although neither he nor the ministry’s announcement indicated how many F-35s will initially be acquired. Also not revealed was the variants that Singapore would buy. A ministry spokesperson declined to provide further details when asked by Defense News.

Singapore has been a security cooperative partner in the F-35 program since 2003, and first disclosed its interest in the F-35 in 2013. Subsequent reports suggested it was keen on the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B variant. It is believed Singapore has a requirement of 40-60 aircraft, or enough to make up two or three squadrons.

Singapore, which is a regional security partner of the United States, currently operates a fleet of 60 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D/D+ Fighting Falcon multirole fighters. These are a mix of 40 Block 52 C/D aircraft and a further 20 newer F-16D+ Advanced Block 52s acquired in four batches between 1994 and 2001. Deliveries started in 1998, which would make the oldest of these 32 years old by 2030.

Twelve of the older Block 52s serve with a training detachment based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona embedded within a mixed USAF-RSAF squadron conducting continuation training for RSAF pilots with the remainder distributed among three Singapore-based squadrons. Singapore’s fleet of F-16s are currently being upgraded to F-16V standard, with the program expected to be completed in 2022 or 2023.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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