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Singapore to acquire 8 more F-35B fighter jets, growing fleet to 12

The Singapore Armed Forces will also upgrade its training with virtual reality technology and a new digital range, as part of its 2040 vision.

Singapore to acquire 8 more F-35B fighter jets, growing fleet to 12

A United States Marine Corps F-35B on its landing approach. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will acquire another eight F-35B fighter jets, growing its incoming fleet of the fifth-generation fighters to 12.

Singapore will take delivery of the eight jets from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin "by the end of the decade", Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Friday (Feb 24).

In 2019, Singapore announced the acquisition of an initial four F-35Bs, which are on track for delivery by 2026. The purchase was worth an estimated US$2.75 billion, according to a US government press release.

That deal included an option for eight more F-35 jets. Dr Ng on Friday said the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had decided to exercise the option for the F-35B variant after an extensive evaluation.

"MINDEF and the SAF have concluded that the F-35 is the best choice to meet our defence needs now and in the future," he told Parliament.

The Defence Ministry has the largest estimated expenditure among the ministries for the 2023 financial year, at S$17.98 billion. This is a 5.6 per cent increase from FY2022. Almost all the money, or about S$17.04 billion, will go to the SAF.

MINDEF does not give detailed cost figures for the acquisition of planes, submarines and Army platforms as these can provide an indication of capabilities.

Dr Ng attributed the increased spending to heightened inflationary pressures, catching up on projects disrupted by the pandemic, and building up the SAF's ability to counter non-traditional threats.

Describing a backdrop of intensifying global competition, he noted that Asian countries were upsizing their militaries, especially in north-east Asia, and this "can spell trouble ahead".

Yet outside of Parliament, "some political personalities" have pushed for a reduction in defence spending, he said.

"To them, I say – don't sacrifice a strong defence for Singapore at the altar of political expediency. It may win some support, but it risks losing Singapore in that self-interest.

"We must never forget that defence is a long-term business. For the SAF, major systems and platforms take 10 to 15 years to conceptualise, build and integrate into our fighting force."

As part of the SAF's transformation into a next-generation defence force by 2040, Dr Ng also announced that it would invest in training upgrades, including the use of realistic virtual reality simulators and a new digital range.


Dr Ng also revealed that the SAF's Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) had already picked up cyber attacks since it was formally established last October.

"Digital threats in (the) cyber arena are pervasive daily, literally tens if not hundreds of thousands.

"What our cyber agencies are more concerned with are external and orchestrated attacks by non-state and state actors" such as terrorist organisations, he said.

"The DIS has picked up some entities and is monitoring them for their activities. That's as much as I can say," the minister said.

The DIS was set up as the fourth service of the SAF to integrate its capabilities in dealing with a spectrum of external threats, including those in the digital domain.

It provides accurate, relevant and timely early warning and operational intelligence, and advances C4 (command, control, communications, computers) connectivity for the SAF to operate as a "networked" force.


After Singapore's initial F-35 purchase in 2020, a team comprising members of the RSAF and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) were given exclusive, users-only access to F-35 information and facilities to make further evaluations.

MINDEF said it focused on three key areas in its evaluation: How to harness the full suite of F-35 capabilities to enhance its operational edge, how to integrate the F-35 with the rest of the SAF's warfighting systems, and the jet's engineering and maintenance requirements.

The evaluation involved training and professional exchanges with other F-35 users, including the use of high-fidelity simulators. There were also in-depth technical discussions with the F-35 manufacturer and other users, and participation in F-35 conferences and focused study opportunities.

In an interview with the media, Colonel Daxson Yap, head of RSAF's Air Plans Department said the air force had "at least 10" F-35 training opportunities and exchanges in the last few years.

For example, last year's Exercise Pitch Black in Darwin, Australia saw the RSAF fly alongside the United States Marine Corps' F-35Bs and refuel one of the fighters in mid-air.

The team also visited Lockheed Martin's production line in Texas in July last year, where they attended a training session with United States Air Force F-35 instructors, tried an F-35 simulator and sat in a powered-on F-35.

What the F-35B can do

The F-35 is a single-seat fighter jet that comes in three variants: A, B and C.

Singapore is acquiring the F-35B, which can perform short take-offs and land vertically like a helicopter. The F-35A is the most common variant, designed for conventional take-off and landing, while the F-35C is designed to operate with aircraft carriers.

Here are three key features of the F-35B:

  • Stealth: The F-35B has features such as radar absorbent material and systems with low observable technology that allow it to evade enemy detection and operate in contested environments, said MINDEF. The craft has aligned edges that reduce its radar cross section, as well as a reduced engine signature. Internal carriage of weapons and fuel also contributes to its stealth performance.
  • Advanced sensor suite: The F-35B's advanced sensors allow it to collect, analyse and fuse information. This can be shared, providing "unprecedented situational awareness to friendly assets to enhance the survivability and lethality of SAF forces", said MINDEF. "Combined with its stealth capability, the F-35B allows us to see and respond first, through its early detection of targets and the ability to engage targets before it is detected," said the ministry.
  • Short take-off and vertical landing: This provides important operational flexibility given Singapore's land scarcity, said MINDEF.

Explaining how the F-35B would work with the rest of the SAF's warfighting systems, COL Yap said the fighter's individual capabilities will multiply the effectiveness of other aircraft deployed alongside it. He described the advanced sensor suite in particular as "game-changing".

"In the air domain, combat effectiveness is a function of teamwork," he said. "Where the F-35 excels is not just in being able to collect, fuse and share information, but that actually multiplies the capability of platforms that it operates with."

In that regard, the high-fidelity simulators were a "very accurate replica" of the F-35 platform's capabilities, which were "best trained and stress-tested and maximised in simulators", he said.

COL Yap added that exercising the option for the eight F-35Bs at this time served to leverage economies of scale from the current pipeline of orders, as well as hedge supply chain risks.

The F-35Bs will replace the RSAF's ageing fleet of F-16s, which will be retired from the mid-2030s. In 2015, the US State Department approved the sale of upgrades to Singapore for 60 F-16 jets, at an estimated cost of US$130 million.

Asked how many F-35s it would take to replace the F-16s, COL Yap said the RSAF takes a long-term view on defence procurements and that any acquisition would have to meet its needs while being prudent and cost-effective.

Singapore is one of four countries in the Indo-Pacific region to acquire F-35s, along with Australia, Japan and South Korea, according to defence intelligence agency Janes. It reported last December that Thailand has also expressed interest in having at least 12 F-35As.


Dr Ng also announced that the SAF will embark on training upgrades, including an additional 20 per cent of live training to be replaced by simulation training.

The DIS will also transform the existing Cyber Test and Evaluation Centre into a bigger digital range, which will be completed in 2026.

MINDEF said the range will be able to simulate a wider set of sophisticated environments, allowing realistic training for a growing digital workforce.

It will also enable the SAF to conduct joint training with other national agencies like the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), and host bilateral and multilateral exercises.

Dr Ng said that the DIS will also establish a Digital Ops-Tech Centre run by software engineers and data scientists to provide in-house software development for the SAF. It will be operational from 2024.

Phase one of SAFTI City will be completed in 2024. The training ground will consist of more than 60 new buildings including high-rise and low-rise buildings, a bus interchange and an underground MRT station.


As the only war in which modern state-on-state warfare has been fought in recent years, MINDEF and the SAF have been watching the war in Ukraine "very, very closely", said Dr Ng.

While there were military lessons to be learnt, even more important was seeing how "ordinary citizens make the crucial difference".

He cited examples of the Ukrainian people improvising to block Russian military trucks, donating batteries to power drone operations and providing crowd-sourced military intelligence.

"Passion, grit, bravery, innovation, even pure genius in the face of overwhelming adversity," he said.

"If the war has taught us anything, it must be that weaponry and fighting platforms are important, but ultimately, it's the fighting spirit of the people that will decide if they end up subjugated or sovereign."

Source: CNA/dv(rj)


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