Wednesday, February 10, 2016

F-35 fighter jet to go on display at Singapore Airshow

As the event nears, analysts weigh in on what the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can offer for Singapore's air defence and why the country has yet to buy it.

By Loke Kok Fai
09 Feb 2016

SINGAPORE: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be on display at this year's Singapore Airshow, which will be held from Feb 16 to Feb 21. There will also be a flight simulator so visitors can get a feel of the fighter jet that Singapore has expressed its interest in buying.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has expressed interest in the F-35 since as early as 2003, when it joined a programme to develop the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). It is the only fifth-generation fighter presently available on the market and observers said it suits Singapore's needs.

The F-35 offers advanced stealth, ground attack and sensing capabilities for reconnaissance and surveillance. Additionally, some versions of the fighter only require a small area for take-off and landing.

"Singapore has such a small amount of territory," said Mr Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies' Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. "It only has a certain amount of territory for airfields and a certain finite number of airfields, and one of the things you're concerned about is of course enemy air attacks on your airfields that render them useless.

"If you want to use it in the vertical take-off, you could use it roughly in the same space as a helicopter landing pad," he added.


Last December, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he was pleased with progress on the F-35 programme, but he reiterated that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is in "no hurry" to purchase the jet, adding that the SAF will buy what it needs.

Mr Bitzinger said one prohibitive factor could be the high cost of the JSF development programme. He estimates that the programme may have driven up the cost per jet to more than S$140 million.

This could be partly due to the need to address issues such as reliability problems with the fighter's IT system called the Autonomic Logistics Information System, and ejector seats, which have been widely reported.

The SAF might be waiting to see if these risks become more manageable, said another analyst, even as it seeks a next-generation fighter that will give it clear superiority over other air forces in the long term.

"Singapore doesn't particularly need new air defence or interceptor aircraft," said Dr Tim Huxley, executive director at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "It's got the F-16s, which do that job very well and which are being upgraded, which will extend their service life probably for another 20 years.

"I think the F-35 is seen as a medium- to long-term project for RSAF and there is no need to commit to it immediately. The F-35 programme will involve producing considerably more than a thousand aircraft eventually and that production line is going to keep going for a long time."

However, Dr Huxley added that if the F-35 is selected by the SAF, it would be a platform that can effectively coordinate with other air, land and sea elements, in line with SAF's goal of becoming an integrated force.

[From this blog piece, the F16 and F15 can serve SG's needs for some time (20 years?), so there is no hurry to buy the F35. Besides, who knows what advances there might be in the next 20 years in drone (UCAV) capabilities? If so an expensive platform like the F35 could be swamped and over-whelmed but a swarm of cheap(er) drones. It may make more sense to buy a swarm of cheaper drones/UCAV with superior capabilities (because no soft vulnerable pilot) later. When these are developed.]

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