SINGAPORE: Singapore will place an initial order for four F-35 fighter jets for complete testing with the option of a subsequent eight, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced in his Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Committee of Supply debate speech on Friday (Mar 1).
Dr Ng said MINDEF will issue a Letter of Request (LOR) to the US regarding the purchase.
“Our LOR will request an initial acquisition of four F-35s, with the option of a subsequent eight if we decide to proceed,” he said. “As required by US law for foreign military sales, the US Congress must approve the sale of F-35s.”
The exact unit price of the jets has not been finalised, though Dr Ng did say the total cost of owning a fleet of F-35s, including maintenance across its lifespan, will be comparable to the F-15SG programme.
"The Defence Science and Technology Agency's (DSTA) assessment is that now is an opportune time to put in Singapore’s request," Dr Ng said, noting that the price of the F-35 has been "steadily falling" due to "healthy orders" from the US and 10 other countries.
“The current unit price of the F-35 ranges from US$90 million (S$122 million) to US$115 million per aircraft, comparable to what we have paid for our F-15SGs."
According to maker Lockheed Martin, the F-35B – the short take-off/vertical landing variant that Singapore is reportedly interested in – costs US$115.5 million.
READ: ‘Significant and steady investments’ in defence required to keep Singapore’s future secure: Ng Eng Hen
S Rajaratnam School of International Studies war and military strategy expert Bernard Loo wrote in a 2009 commentary that the original contract for 12 F-15SGs cost US$1 billion, although this was likely a package deal including training, avionics and other combat systems.
“Nonetheless, MINDEF will continue to work with the US Department of Defense to optimise operating and maintenance costs,” Dr Ng added.
In January, MINDEF said it had identified the F-35 as the “most suitable replacement” for its ageing F-16s, following a technical evaluation lasting more than five years.
READ: Singapore identifies F-35 fighter jet to replace F-16s, expects to buy ‘small number’ for full testing
Dr Ng had said in a Facebook post then that MINDEF will discuss details with relevant parties in the US to “move the process forward”, a phase which might take nine to 12 months. Details to be discussed include price, variant and logistics.
READ: Commentary: Was Singapore’s announcement to buy a small number of F-35s too slow, too tentative?
The minister said Singapore has the endorsement of both the US Administration and the Department of Defense for its proposed purchase of the F-35s, which boast some of the latest stealth, networking and sensing capabilities.
“In fact, President Trump wrote to PM Lee last month welcoming Singapore’s plans to acquire the F-35,” he added.
“During my meeting with Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan at the Munich Security Conference two weeks ago, he also said that the US was greatly appreciative of Singapore’s decision.”