Singapore Moves Closer To Joining What China Calls The ‘U.S. F-35 Friends Circle’


The short and vertical takeoff and landing F-35B could be especially valuable for the tiny Southeast Asian country during a crisis.

Singapore’s Ministry of Defense has announced that it is formally considering replacing its fleet of F-16C/D Viper fighter jets with F-35 stealth fighters. The vertical takeoff and landing-capable F-35B, in particular, could be especially valuable for the small Southeast Asian nation given its ability to operate independently of runways or potentially from the flight deck of larger amphibious ships the country also plans to acquire in the future. All of this comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea as China makes increasingly forceful moves to assert its claims in the region.

A technical evaluation from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Defense Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) concluded the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was the “most suitable” replacement for the F-16C/Ds, according to the statement the Ministry of Defense released on Jan. 18, 2019. Singapore has approximately 60 Vipers, which it says it will need to begin replacing around 2030.

“However, the technical evaluation also concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet,” the statement continued. “In the next phase, MINDEF [Ministry of Defense] will discuss details with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to acquire the F-35 JSFs for Singapore’s defense capabilities.”

The brief release did not specify a particular model or models that Singapore might be interested in buying. The United States has not yet publicly approved a sale of F-35s to Singapore, either, which might help shine a light on the possible size and composition of that fleet.