Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guessing game continues over Singapore's plans for F-35 fighter

Feet wet over the Singapore Strait, the Republic of Singapore Navy S-70B Seahawk naval helicopter had a VVIP passenger aboard for his final helo flight before changing name cards. Outgoing Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chief of Air Force (CAF), Major-General Ng Chee Meng, made his last flight aboard the Seahawk in his capacity as CAF.

The flight was symbolic of the progress the RSAF had made in expanding its operational envelope from land to sea, now that Seahawks acquired under CAF's watch as part of Project Peace Triton are ready for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.

As the general prepared to step up to the role of Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces, one final flight awaited him in his capacity as CAF. This time, in a fixed wing fighter.

Many people love to play guessing games, which is why Singapore Pools is doing so well.

The latest buzz among military buffs centres on the type and number of warplane Singapore might will eventually buy for our air force. In this guessing game, the payoff isn't cold hard cash but bragging rights to (supposedly) knowing more and being better informed than fellow netizens.

The stakes were opened by a 25 March 2013 online article with a headline that screamed "Singapore Poised to Announce Purchase of 12 F-35Bs". Click here for the full story.

Definitive intro
The AOL Defense story's intro reads:"Singapore is expected to announce sometime in the next 10 days that it plans to buy its first squadron --12 planes -- of some 75 of Lockheed Martin's F-35Bs, further bolstering what had been the flagging fortunes of the world's most expensive conventional weapon system."

That definitive-sounding opener got the tribe uber excited.

The story reignited dormant discussion threads on the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes.

It stoked numerous theories on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of spending money on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet when the American warplane had generated and continues to sustain mixed reviews from the United States military aviation community.

It triggered countless Google searches on the F-35 from netizens eager to polish their familiarity with a new generation stealth fighter marketed by Lockheed as the next big thing.

Well, those 10 days have come and gone. We have yet to hear the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) say anything and there's no official word from the defense community in CONUS either. Not a squeak.

Saying a lot without saying anything
Scroll back to early March and one would find MINDEF's longest statement on the F-35 in recent years - a statement that could have led observers to think there is no smoke without fire.

Wrapping up the debate on the defence budget, Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen said:"Investing steadily over the long-term allows MINDEF to keep a constant lookout for platforms with cutting-edge capabilities that can provide Singapore with that strategic advantage. For this reason, we joined the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Programme as a Security Cooperation Participant (SCP) back in 2004. The JSF, as some members know, now the F-35, has the potential to be the most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft for decades to come.

"Though the F-35 aircraft is still in development, we are nonetheless interested in the platform for our future needs. The F-35 will be the vanguard of next generation fighter aircraft when operational. Our F-5s are nearing the end of their operational life and our F-16s are at their mid-way mark. For the longer term, the RSAF has identified the F-35 as a suitable aircraft to further modernise our fighter fleet. We are now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35. So in the interest of transparency, I'm telling you we're now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35. MINDEF will have to be satisfied that this state-of-the-art multi-role fighter meets our long-term needs, is on track to be operationally capable and, most importantly, is a cost-effective platform. I've given many necessary caveats before we make a final decision, but we are evaluating the platform."

Whether you're for or against the F-35, Dr Ng's carefully calibrated lines appear to indicate that it is only a matter of time before a deal is struck. And then again, perhaps not as you'll notice that the statement gives MINDEF wriggle room to back out of any decision without losing face.

It would not be the first time Singov has come out openly to discuss fighter purchases.

S'pore's 1st fighter purchase
In the late 1960s, Britain offered to sell English Electric Lightning F.6 fighter jets to the Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC). The 12 Lightnings that Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) based at RAF Tengah were then regarded as the fastest fighter interceptors in the region. The twin-engined warplanes served with the RAF's Number 74 "Tiger" Squadron.

The supersonic Lightnings - in their time the Royal Air Force's most capable interceptor - were rejected in favour of subsonic Hawker Hunter fighter/ground attack aircraft. RAF Hunters operated out of RAF Tengah with Number 20 Squadron.

The idea was for the Lightnings to serve as day interceptors for air defence while Hawker Hunters were described with the innocuous term as "trainers". *rolls eyeballs*

At the time of acquisition, the Hunters were combat proven, adored by pilots who flew them and respected by those who flew against these warbirds. So the then Singapore Air Defence Command (SADC, forerunner to today's RSAF) had few sceptics to contend with. In the end, the plan to introduce two advanced jet fighters to the fledgling air force was judged overly ambitious and Lightnings were quietly axed from the air force's wish-list.

Singaporean fighter pilots had to wait a full decade before Northrop F-5 warplanes capable of flying supersonic were added to RSAF flightline under Project Peace "O" (full project name deleted).

Lightning strikes twice
Having once rejected a Lightning warplane (the English Electric Lightning F.6), will the Lightning name (this time the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II) also be shown the door by Singapore's air defence planners?

The claims and counter-claims from both F-35 camps aren't all bad.

It serves to promote awareness of RSAF airpower. It gives Singapore's air force free publicity in cyberspace as netizens speculate, theorise and argue over its future order of battle.

It prods people to ask why Singapore has built up its air power the way it is.

But the presence of sceptics, particularly those from the US aviation community whose professional credentials cannot be scoffed at, signals that any F-35 decision ought to be accompanied by a public relations game plan that explains our case.

In other words, we do not want to be seen as having bought a lemon if a deal is struck.

And if all bets are off, Singaporeans deserve assurance that the RSAF will continue to maintain its capability edge while fielding other types of manned and unmanned air assets.

Among the RSAF's stable of high performance warplanes, Maj-Gen Ng picked the twin-seater F-5T Tiger II as his choice for his last flight as CAF. The F-5T - the oldest jet trainer in the RSAF's stable - was chosen over twin-seater F-16D, F-16D+ and F-15SGs and this choice did not go unnoticed by airmen who had worked with and seen Maj-Gen Ng's career earn him top spot in the RSAF's command tree.

This flight was rich in symbolism too. The slender F-5 was the fighter jet that CAF was trained to fly and fight as a pilot trainee. He climbed through the ranks to command the RSAF's 144 Squadron - the air force's first squadron to fly supersonic F-5s - as his first squadron command. [Incidentally, the command tour of RSAF F-5 unit, 149 Squadron, was cherished by Maj-Gen Ng's elder brother, Maj-Gen Ng Chee Khern so much that it was no coincidence that 149 SQN was chosen to operate the Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagles - Singapore's most advanced warplane.]

As the F-5T soared off the runway for the flight to Tengah Air Base, the landscape observed by the outgoing CAF had changed much from the time he first strapped on an F-5E. Still, the constraints of being a tiny island city-state, the urban density and Singapore's position astride one of the world's most important shipping lanes were plainly obvious beneath his fighter jet. 

As Chief of Defence Force, the general would likely preside over the drawdown of the RSAF's F-5 community.

This CDF - who is only the second air force officer to hold that title - will likely preside over a paradigm shift in RSAF air power as the decision over a new warplane type and unveiling of a replacement for the 35mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns are likely to take place during his watch. Exciting times await us.


UncleLee'sPocketAirForce said...

Amazing how long the F35's development cycle has been.

Likely, Singapore will NOT announce anything until the price of the F35 is 'stabilized' and will not make any purchases until the price goes down with later tranches.

To maintain the edge in the local arena, another purchase of 24 F15s to replace the F5s should suffice. would be great to add another 12 in addition on lease to purchase for State side training thereby ensuring 48 birds for local security which is more than overmatch on the closest two neighbours as far as heavy fighters are concerned.

There is no threat of any country at the moment in and around South East Asia in fielding stealth grade fighters for the next 5 -10 years in significant numbers.

Lim said...

Why are we wasting so much on defence? Have Singapore ever gone to war? No one will attack us if we pose no threat to anyone.

Anonymous said...

I hope one day the transfer of sensitive US technology will be curtailed because Singapore is full of PRCs.

This will also benefit the Singaporean citizen taxpayers because Typhoons are cheaper than the F-35.

Anonymous said...


Why you wasting so much on keeping yourself safe? have you ever been robbed? no robber will rob you if you dont pose a threat to the robber.

UNLCE LIM...this gotta be the stupidest statement ever... agreed?

Anonymous said...

Mayb the minister n RSAF top brass read about the screw ups of the F35 from netizens n WENT iNTO PANIC MODE.

Anonymous said...

Nevertheless, lets not deny that F35 is an excellent fighter. There are already so many book orders all over the world before production. Sadly, many singaporeans need a lesson on National Education.

Anonymous said...

You above, how can you call people unpatriotic for asking questions?

If something is done, it is not just a citizen's right but responsibility to think, not simply trust the process and praise it blindly.

There are concrete concerns that F-35s cannot match Su-30s in some areas. It may not be the best fighter and even its purchase by Singapore may be unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

MINDEF undertook a lengthy stringent aircraft selection process since 2004 more than 9 years ago. MINDEF do not make purchase decision simply based on information from internet alone.

Anonymous said...

So far what layman like yours truly understand about the F35s are thru' open source information. The F35 program is getting a lot of bad press all over the internet...certainly there is no smoke without fire.

However, according to impartial 3rd party "expert" opinion who has clearance for classified info on the capabilities of the 5th gen JSF, they were impressed by what it can do!

I am putting faith on these impartial experts i assume has SG and our tax $ at heart (pray).

Projects of such complexity where got no problems one LOL. Technical problems are meant to be solved. I hope the current generation of American engineers are imbued with the never say die attitude of their forebears who sent NASA astronauts to the moon. At the time prior 1969, this task was deem too impossible! It took the USA government determination, the ingenuity enterprise of the private sector contractors and the moral support of the people, that spirit must prevail again.

Anonymous said...

Singapore government used to buy tried and tested systems that meet our needs. Now they invest to be guinea pigs?

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by your impartial internet source coz F35 has never flew against SU30 in any mock combat yet. Nothing beats doing evaluation for 8 years in the factory itself.

Anonymous said...

Mindef do not make purchase decision based on internet or expert sources. They go down to actual production site to do testing.

Laochiowteachyou said...

F35 vs SU30

Yes SU30 may be more manouverable but you can't hit what you don't see.

Today's game is BVR (Beyond Visual Range).

Just a slight clarification. ;)

Kangaroo Dons said...

euro typhoon is same generation as F15, so there is no point in buying another plane of the same gen.

we'll never know whether F35 is better than SU30 unless they actually go to combat. in any case, a skilled pilot could use a F5 and still beat a SU30.

we can't always be going for tried-and-tested stuff. getting F35 is to steal a march on our potential adversaries. currently there is not much choice unless we intend to buy Russian (Sukhoi's T50) or Chinese (J20), neither is going to happen. so F35 is an outright choice.

Anonymous said...

Continue from 9.03. 5th gen JSF is the 1st gen of stealth fighters to come. SG now is in a position to acquire and take on the learning curve of stealth fighter technology. Better start learning about stealth technology now.

Anonymous said...

Cut those talks about SU30, F5 & how good pilots skill is. Honestly I believed most if not all Singaporeans will be glad that F35 is flying over our heads rather than other thing else.

Anonymous said...

Continue from 5.04 and that is why we have the tried and tested air superiority F15SG if need be to go head on with the likes of SU30. If the current situation becomes too pressing before 2018 we can for the interim get the F15 silent eagle. Same F15 platform thus learning curve not so steep, the squadron can be opreationalised ASAP to bridge the gap.

Anonymous said...

You sound very cocky about buying the F-35, telling people to shut up and trust the selection process. Even the defence minister has not confirmed buying it. Even you don't know how good the plane is.

I can't care less. This isn't my country anymore. Hope Singapore buys the full 100 so the cost borne by my new country is lower.

Anonymous said...

Are u aware that before 2004, MINDEF has already done dissimilar combat flight testing on SU30. Only F15, Rafale & Typhoon are shortlisted. SU30 lost in the first round after intensive evaluation. More than 8 years later, someone blabber on the internet claming that SU30 can outgun F35 based on some expert data.

Anonymous said...

Are you aware that no aircraft is absolutely stealth, that the F-22 was designed to clear the way for the F-35, that the F-35 is not stealth when carrying a full payload, that if a way is found to detect the F-35 it will be very vulnerable?

Anonymous said...

"If the current situation becomes too pressing before 2018 we can for the interim get the F15 silent eagle."

Is the situation pressing?

SenorSatisfactory said...

You are aware of such a thing as HMS (Helmet Mounted Sight)

No matter how manouverable your SU30/35 is, this is a great equalizer.

Add Stealth (greater than Typhoon or SU30/35) and there are some significant advantages.

Question here is when to get the F35. Pricing comes down in later tranches.

Considering Singapore's neighbours do not employ any significant advantages over the RSAF currently, there is no rush to introduce stealth capabilities just yet.

Anonymous said...

I am aware of the helmet mounted sight. All 139 of Singapore's fighters have the HMS. All 24 (soon 36) F-15s, 74 F-16s have the JHMCS and all 41 F-5s have the DASH.

Lim said...

If you are good, no need to buy F35 also can. A skilled pilot flying RSAF F4 can easily outgun an inexperienced pilot flying F35.

Anonymous said...

There is a reason neighbouring countries only buy small numbers of MiG-29, Su-30, Gripen, F-16. These are sufficient to defend themselves against each other.

They can never attack Singapore and will never defend against an aggressor Singapore.

Malaysia has 30 fighters, Indonesia 8. We have 110 fighters plus another 41 F-5s. All have helmet mounted sight which you said is a great equalizer. All armed with AMRAAM, Harpoon and Maverick. 110 armed with the latest JDAMS or JSOW. Another 12 F-15s coming. 200 more AMRAAM and AIM-9 missiles ordered. What more do you want?

Don't forget we need more Chinooks and one day to replace the Pumas. You want your cake and to eat it too?

All this comes out of Singaporean's tax dollars. The HDB profits, exorbitant land sales, ERP, COE do not pay for these toys. They go into the reserves.

When can Singaporeans expect a break? Buy everything on this list?

Ss said...


I pointed out in the comments on Colin Clark's article that there's no official confirmation on F-35s, B-models no less, and he replied that he got his info from industry contacts, which were solid?

It's my reckoning that the story broke after a Reuters stringer read MinDef's speech during the recent Supply debate. The B is the one model that has caused LockMart the most issues, and even potential news of foreign interest in that model is a big positive for them. So, over-enthusiastic reporting or some LockMart astroturfing perhaps?

My reckoning is that the call on the F-35 won't be made for a while - IIRC the F-15SG selection took 2 years longer than most pundits predicted. The platform simply isn't as mature as many would like, and there should be no foreseeable rush for Singapore to acquire them, at least... not until the I model has had a few years of OPEVAL...

Speaking of Eagles:

I wonder if such a deal would include a refit to Silent Eagle standard?

And in the meantime, didn't MinDef mention something about a Challenger-class replacement program in his speech? Kinda slipped under the radar, don't you think?

David Boey said...

Hi SS,
I doubt MINDEF/SAF can be forced to show hand (to use a gaming analogy) even with the amount of passive lobbying out there by industry.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day so if people keep writing these imminent purchase kind of stories, sooner or later someone will hit the sweet spot.

Yup, the sub story would have been anchored on something more solid.

IMDEX is round the corner. Maybe some news - speculative and otherwise - will surface then?

Best regards,


Ss said...

IMDEX... will be interesting... especially if the Endurance 160 LHD design 'resurfaces', so to speak...

Reezwan said...

Dear Friends, it is interesting to know a bit of our Hawker Hunters' history in the RSAF. Does anyone have photos of our Hunters operated by 140 & 141 squadrons in the early 70s (i.e. during the SADC phase)?