Having concluded its evaluation of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) revealed it would exercise its option to acquire another eight examples of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)-configured variant of the fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter family on February 24.
This important move ultimately commits Singapore to acquiring an initial fleet of 12 F-35Bs – of which four examples have already been ordered – which is set to enter operational service by the end of this decade. The acquisition will ultimately provide new capabilities for the RSAF, giving it the ability to project fifth-generation combat airpower from austere environments without the need for a runway and to possibly operate its jets from F-35B-configured amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers going forward. The follow-on contract for these additional eight F-35Bs is expected to be signed before the end of this year.
Commenting on the decision, Singapore’s Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen – said: “After a full evaluation, the Ministry of Defence and the Singapore Armed Forces conclude that the F-35 will best meet our defence needs now and in the future. The RSAF will be acquiring eight more F-35Bs, to be added to our fleet by [the] end of this decade. This will support the progressive drawdown of our ageing F-16s, due to retire from the mid-2030s onwards. The RSAF with F-35s and F-15s will be a strong air force to protect our skies.”
Singapore has been involved in the Joint Strike Fighter programme since 2003, when it joined the project as a Security Cooperation Participant. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the island nation selected the F-35B as the likely replacement for its F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet. In 2020, an order for the first four aircraft was placed under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement, with deliveries scheduled to take place in 2026. These F-35Bs will initially be based at a new FMS Pilot Training Center, which will be established at Ebbing Air National Guard Base, Arkansas, where they will be used to train RSAF pilots and ground crews on the type.
During the latter half of 2022, the RSAF carried out an evaluation of both the STOVL-configured F-35B and the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A to see which would be the best fit for it going forward. It appears that the F-35B remained as Singapore’s preferred variant following this. The RSAF will be the first air arm to exclusively employ the F-35B in a land-based role, at least for the time being.