The presence of American F-35 Lightning IIs continues to increase in Asia as Singapore adds eight more stealth fighters to its fleet.
After thorough deliberation, Singapore announced it would acquire eight additional F-35B Lightning II fighter jets last week, ramping up its advanced jet capabilities to twelve. The small South East Asian country had initially signed a deal to purchase four “B” variants of the sophisticated warplane in 2019 and had received approval from the US State Department in early 2020, with expected deliveries to start in 2026.
These advanced American jets will replace the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aging fleet of F-16C/D by 2030, consequently becoming the first country outside the United States to operate the F-35B version exclusively from land bases.
“Following an extensive and robust evaluation, MINDEF will exercise the option and purchase eight additional F-35Bs, which is necessary to enable the Republic of Singapore Air Force to strengthen its next-generation capabilities as part of the Singapore Armed Forces 2040 transformation,” said Defense Minister of Singapore Ng Eng Hen.
Among the remarkable features of the fifth-generation fighter jet, Singapore particularly highlighted the aircraft’s flexible Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) capabilities, allowing them to operate reliably even without long, often vulnerable runways. Due to the unique geographic structure of the country, the warplane could bolster its air power—especially with China’s growing aggressiveness in the region.
Quit hanging around, we got work to do! 😉
An F-35B conducts a vertical landing exercise at @NASPaxRiverPAO, Md. pic.twitter.com/YPlLd1MPlb
— F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (@theF35JPO) February 22, 2023
It is noteworthy that Singapore is located at the southern end of the Strait of Malacca, a particularly important trading point for China and the world. According to statistics, this passage, also situated near the southern end of the South China Sea, is estimated to account for one-third of the world’s commercial shipping traffic. Subsequently, attributed to the island state’s thriving economy is, at the same time, a crucial route for Beijing.
While Singapore has previously clarified that the transaction was for pure defense and deterrence and not to attack any third country deliberately, some experts have noted that it does, in a way, indicate that the island state is taking the necessary steps to prepare for any escalation as China continues to assert itself in Asia.
In addition to the deal, the RSAF will allocate spending in training upgrades, including virtual reality simulators and a new digital range, as part of its military modernization efforts, which they aim to achieve by 2040.
Besides Singapore, Thailand has also decided to purchase at least twelve F-35As, with an estimated induction into service by 2034. Meanwhile, US allies South Korea and Japan have already operated their respective fleets of F-35s, owning dozens of the advanced fighters.
As tension rises in the region, the US has been keeping a rotational presence of its own F-35s to assist South Korea and Japan to ensure that any trouble with North Korea and China would not spiral out of control.
While the US is very particular about “who” to sell its sophisticated jets to, countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Israel (“I” version), the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Switzerland have either operated or made their orders of the F-35 and its variants.
It’s a team effort! 💪
F-35s from @LukeAFB, Italy 🇮🇹, Denmark 🇩🇰, Norway 🇳🇴, Netherlands 🇳🇱, arrive in Savannah Air National Base, Georgia, as part of the F-35 B-Course capstone to qualify student pilots to become 5th-generation aircraft aviators. #F35Unites pic.twitter.com/2CSQfXjAoM
— F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (@theF35JPO) February 24, 2023
Turkey and the United Arab Emirates previously showed interest in signing a deal, but Washington later canceled their contracts. On the other hand, India has been reported to have initiated “very early stages” of negotiations for the F-35s following its recent five-day aerospace exhibition.
Two US Air Force-owned F-35s demonstrated their air superiority and outstanding features during the biennial event, touching down at Bengaluru in Yelahanka.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Kristin "BEO" Wolfe, @F35demoteam commander and pilot, assigned to @HAFB, Utah, demonstrates the capabilities of the F-35 during #AeroIndia2023 at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, India 🇮🇳. pic.twitter.com/xCQ7ongDoA
— F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (@theF35JPO) February 23, 2023