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Impending Decision

Singaporean F-16 Fighter Jet Replacement Likely In Next Few Months

It is very likely that Singapore will decide on a new fighter jet to take over from its ageing fleet of F-16s, “in the next few months,” according to Defence Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen, with the replacement exercise projected to start from 2030.

Speaking to media representatives on 1 July, the defence minister said: “There is a need to replace the fighter jets, which are now 30 years old, as they are set to become obsolete globally beyond 2030.”

He added that a decision has to be made soon as the replacement of fighter jets requires a lead time of 8-10 years for preparations in areas such as aircraft maintenance and the training of pilots for the new platform. “So, we have thought long and hard about it, taken our time to choose a replacement and we’ll be making a definitive decision likely in the next few months,” Dr. Ng added.

The options for stealth fighters in the market include the Eurofighter TYPHOON, Lockheed Martin F-35, Sukhoi Su-30 and the Chinese J-20, though Singapore has reportedly been evaluating the F-35s as a replacement since 2013 and the defence minister previously suggested that the type was suited to be the replacement for Singapore’s F-16s. Earlier reports suggested Singapore is keen on acquiring the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant, with the B-model’s STOVL capability seen as useful for Singapore, whose main island has an area of a mere 277 square miles and whose air bases are seen as vulnerable to a first strike.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) currently operates a fleet of 60 F-16C/D Block 52 and Advanced Block 52 aircraft delivered between 1998 and 2005, with 12 aircraft currently assigned to a joint continuation training unit between the US and Singapore Air Forces at Luke Air Force Base, AZ/USA, while the remaining are split between three Singapore-based squadrons.

Singapore’s F-16s, currently being upgraded by Lockheed Martin, are expected to be completed in 2022, including the addition of Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar (X-Band 8-12GHz), an improved identification friend or foe (IFF) system, as well as LINK 16 data links.

Besides acquiring new aircraft and missile systems, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is also setting up a new facility called the Air Warfare Centre at the Paya Lebar Air Base this July, centralising various entities that will test and operationalise different air warfare concepts and capabilities in a controlled environment without the physical need for that space.

Taken together, these efforts will help the RSAF to maintain air superiority, which is crucial for a small state like Singapore as it creates the time and space for early warning against any aggressors, said Dr. Ng.

He also outlined other timeframes for equipment upgrades and purchases in the army and navy, as well as steps to leverage technology more to build a next-generation SAF that is smarter, leaner, and more lethal.

These include a next-generation howitzer high-mobility weapon system and a Multi-Role Combat Vessel, i.e. a mothership for unmanned systems to replace VICTORY-class missile corvettes.


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