Singapore Puts Off Decision on Whether to Buy Lockheed’s F-35

Key Speakers And Displays At The Singapore Airshow

A man takes a photograph of a Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 Lightning II fighter jet at the Singapore Airshow.

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
  • Government was considering up to 12 F-35B model fighters
  • Foreign military sales request was made to U.S. in late 2014

Singapore has put on hold a decision to buy as many as 12 of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jets, according to information from the Pentagon’s program office.

The island nation’s permanent secretary of defense development informed the U.S. in mid-June that it was delaying final steps toward purchasing four of the fighters by about 2022, with an option to buy eight more, according to the information presented to Pentagon officials last month as part of their regular reviews of the costliest weapons program.

While Singapore gave no indication of when it might revive efforts to buy the F-35, the U.S. continues to encourage the Asian city-state to buy the fighter. “We welcome Singapore’s interest in purchasing the F-35 aircraft,” President Barack Obama said in opening remarks at a White House press conference last week with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In December 2014, Singapore submitted a “letter of request” to the U.S. formally seeking information on purchasing the F-35, and it followed up in early 2015 by indicating it wanted the most complex model, the F-35B. Intended for short takeoffs and vertical landings on unimproved airstrips, the F-35B was designed for use by the U.S. Marine Corps and has already been ordered by the U.K. and Italy.

Data Link, Radio

The U.S. made a policy decision earlier this year allowing Singapore to integrate a data link and radio that it developed into its jets if purchased, according to the Pentagon’s F-35 program office.

Singapore isn’t a primary participant in the $379 billion F-35 program. The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 jets for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, while foreign partners currently plan to buy 612. Belgium, Poland, Finland, Spain also might include F-35s in future competitions, the Congressional Research Service said last month.

Singapore has “been uncertain on the F-35 for years,” said Richard Aboulafia, a military aircraft analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. “As a ‘security cooperation partner’ they were never as fully committed as the primary partners,” he said in an e-mail. “They have a large and very new fleet of F-16s and F-15s, and the threats they face don’t really call for a plane in the F-35 class” so “any F-35 sale to Singapore was viewed as a relatively long-term proposition.”

The Singapore ministry of defense said in an e-mailed statement that “as a small country with no strategic depth, Singapore will always need superior air capabilities to protect its interests and borders.” It cited a statement by the island’s defense minister in 2013 that “our current fleet of fighter aircraft are adequate for our defense needs and the F-35 is still under evaluation."

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