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Singapore Wants To Replace Its F-16 Multirole Fighters

July 2, 2018

Southeast Asia’s city state is now shopping for a new multirole fighter that can augment its powerful air force, according to a fresh scoop from Reuters. The head of Singapore’s defense ministry was quoted saying potential replacements for 60 F-16C/D’s are being evaluated. Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen didn’t mention any specific criteria for the new fighters, except every major platform was on the table, including the F-35B and even “Sukhois.”

Singapore’s combat aircraft are split between US-made bespoke F-15SG and F-16C/D squadrons. Though never flown in a regional conflict, the fleet is considered Southeast Asia’s most formidable and superior to their counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Reuters report mentioned the defense ministry wanted a new multirole fighter because the air force’s F-16C/D’s were nearing their 30-year serviceability in 2028. Before Singapore’s F-16’s were delivered in the late 1990s the Northrop F-5 was the most capable fixed wing combat aircraft flown by the city state’s military. But few details have been publicly revealed on the F-16 replacements and speculation on whether the defense ministry is lobbying for F-35B’s–as suggested by Reuters journalists–hasn’t been verified by other sources.

The F-35B is a vertical takeoff variant of the controversial fifth-generation stealth fighter. Most US allies who joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program are receiving the F-35A that now costs between $80 and $160 million per plane. Singapore’s reported interest in the F-35 makes it the third country–Taiwan and the UAE are lobbying for theirs too–maneuvering to buy it.

Singapore’s need to replace 60 fighter jets by the 2020s does make it a bright spot in the military aviation market. With India’s own vain search for a multirole platform in bulk reduced to a convoluted mess and East Asia (Japan and South Korea) cornered by Lockheed Martin’s F-35 JSF, aerospace firms peddling cutting edge airframes have decent opportunities in Southeast Asia. The air forces of Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, for example, have indefinite plans to buy multirole fighters in the near future.

Surprising progress has been made by Russia in the past two years. Its state-owned aircraft manufacturer is set to deliver a squadron of Su-35’s to Indonesia by 2020 and another squadron of Su-30’s to Myanmar with additional orders from both almost certain. Sukhois are almost the dominant airframe among ASEAN states now that old MiGs and F-5’s have nearly disappeared.

Another unforeseen success is the KAI FA-50 trainer and light attack aircraft. The single engine platform made in South Korea with US assistance has embellished the country’s reputation as a conventional weapons exporter and enjoyed brisk sales in ASEAN, with Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand ordering small batches. FA-50’s performed a crucial role in the seven month struggle to retake Marawi from ISIS-linked terrorists in 2017.

Singapore’s defense ministry hasn’t published anything related to the decommissioning of the air force’s F-16C/D’s. Putting the deep bonds between the militaries of Singapore and the US in perspective, however, means there’s a good chance a familiar fourth or fifth-generation platform is chosen with a smaller possibility a European rival (such as the Saab Gripen or Eurofighter Typhoon) is deemed worthy.

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