On January 9, the U.S. State Department gave formal approval to Singapore’s request for a potential Foreign Military Sale of the F-35B Lightning II combat aircraft.
The approval notification was sent to Congress via the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). The sale would have an estimated price tag of $2.75 billion, which includes the purchase of four F-35Bs plus an option on another 12 units. The total also covers the acquisition of up to 13 Pratt & Whitney F135 engines (including one spare), electronic warfare and communications systems, training equipment, and the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS).
DSCA approves sale of 12 F-35Bs to Singapore; follows MOD’s 4 + 8 decision last February. pic.twitter.com/K5pxrTtYz1
— Steve Trimble (@TheDEWLine) January 9, 2020
One year ago, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced on social media that following a technical evaluation by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Defense Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), the Lockheed Martin F-35 had been tapped as the next-generation fighter successor to the existing fleet of F-16s. The announcement was of relatively little surprise, as Singapore is a close ally of the U.S., operates U.S.-sourced combat aircraft both at home and in the U.S. (where its pilots and crew train alongside their American counterparts), and had signed on as an observer in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program back in 2004.
The U.S. offered Singapore participation as a “Security Cooperation” participant (i.e., FMS customer) during the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the F-35 program, allowing it access to project briefings and enabling Singapore to place advance orders, for the modest cost of $24 million.
The F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter family. It has been purchased by the U.S., U.K., and Italy for use off naval carriers and remote forward bases. Japan is expected to procure the type for its retrofitted Izumo-class anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter-carrying destroyers.
While Singapore has no such vessels from which to operate the jump-jets, the type fits the strategic and geographic realities of the tiny city-state with its limited land area and vulnerability to enemy air strikes and missile/rocket strikes on its runways. The STOVL capability eliminates the need to line up aircraft on an airfield, allowing the RSAF the ability to disperse rather than cluster its fleet on the ground where they may prove vulnerable to runway damage.
The small batch purchase set to be negotiated fits with Singaporean procurement practice, which is typically undertaken in careful, incremental fashion. A small batch purchase affords the RSAF the opportunity to take a “buy and fly” evaluation process with lessened risk prior to picking up the larger-batch option.