SINGAPORE: The United States and Singapore have selected Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Arkansas, as the preferred location to host the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) F-35B fighter training detachment, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said on Friday (Jun 4).
The choice was made by the US Department of Defense (DoD) in consultation with MINDEF.
As part of the decision, RSAF would also relocate its F-16 fighter training detachment at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to Fort Smith.
“Ebbing Air National Guard Base was shortlisted following careful feasibility studies between the RSAF and the US Air Force (USAF), which included factors such as suitability of location and training area, infrastructure and logistics support,” MINDEF said in a news release.
“The co-location of the RSAF F-16s and F-35Bs will also maximise opportunities for integrated training.”
The US Air Force said in a press statement that the decision came after several US allies and partner nations "showed interest" in conducting F-35 training at a US-based F-35 training facility.
It added that ramp and airspace capacity constraints at Arizona's Luke Air Force Base limited expansion. The new training centre will have the capacity for up to 36 fighter aircraft.
“The F-35 programme is a multi-service, multi-national effort that dramatically increases interoperability between the US and other F-35 partner nations,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P Roth.
“We are fully committed to the F-35 as the cornerstone of the US Air Force’s fighter fleet and look forward to building stronger relationships with nations who want to work by our side.”
Delivery of the first four of Singapore’s F-35Bs is expected in 2026.
MINDEF said that the RSAF is looking ahead to enhanced cooperation with the USAF and US Marine Corps.
“The RSAF also looks forward to enhanced joint training and exchanges with the USAF’s and US Marine Corps’ F-35s,” the ministry said.
“Such overseas training is important for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to overcome local airspace constraints and to conduct high-end realistic training.”
The B variant of the F-35, which Singapore has ordered and is also used by the Marine Corps, is able to perform shorter take-offs and land vertically.
READ: SAF to increase scale, complexity of overseas training in areas up to 80 times size of Singapore
An environmental impact assessment will be conducted to assess suitability before the basing decision is finalised, MINDEF said.
Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Michigan, will serve as an alternate location for the training detachments.
“MINDEF would like to express appreciation to the leaders and communities of the two basing locations for their strong support for the RSAF’s presence in (the continental United States),” the ministry said.
The US Department of the Air Force said it anticipates making the final basing decision in 2023.
The RSAF Peace Carvin II F-16 detachment at Luke Air Force Base was established in 1992, and is the RSAF's longest-operating overseas detachment.
The training detachment is one of three in the continental US, along with Peace Carvin V's F-15SG detachment in Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and Peace Vanguard's AH-64 Apache helicopter detachment in Marana, Arizona.
"MINDEF and the US DoD interact regularly through military-to-military exchanges, training and courses, and defence technology cooperation," MINDEF said.
"The US has provided long-standing support for the SAF’s overseas training in the US."
In 2019, Singapore and the US renewed the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Regarding US Use of Facilities in Singapore through the Protocol of Amendment and also signed an MOU on the establishment of an RSAF training detachment at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
The US State Department approved the sale of up to 12 F-35Bs to Singapore in 2020 at an estimated cost of US$2.75 billion (S$3.71 billion), making it the most expensive warplane that Singapore has bought.
MINDEF asked to buy four F-35Bs first to assess the jet's capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet.
The fifth-generation fighter has been identified as Singapore’s choice to replace its ageing F-16s.
Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the aircraft performed its first aerobatics display here at the 2020 Singapore Airshow.