SINGAPORE: Singapore`s defence minister said on Friday that Lockheed Martin`s F-35 fighter jets were the most suitable replacement for its F-16 fleet, and it planned to buy "a few planes first" for evaluation. With Southeast Asia`s largest defense budget, the wealthy city-state is a key prize for global arms companies as it looks to invest in new technology and upgrade its equipment.
Singapore`s fleet of around 60 F-16 jets, which first entered service in 1998, will be retired soon after 2030. "They (defence agencies) have decided that the F-35 would be the most suitable replacement fighter," Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post.
"We want to procure a few planes first, to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the acquisition of a full fleet," he added. Ng said defence agencies would speak to their US counterparts to move the process forward, but that it would take 9-12 months to finalise terms on the initial deal.
The F-35, one of the world`s most advanced fighter jets, accounts for about a quarter of Lockheed`s total revenue. The cost of the most common variation of the jet, the F-35A, is around $90 million each, based on contract negotiations with the Pentagon in the United States.
The F-35`s pricetag has been criticized by US President Donald Trump and other US officials, who have also pointed to numerous production delays and cost overruns. Last year, all Lockeed Martin`s US and international F-35 fighter jets were grounded for engine inspections following a crash of an F-35B on Sept. 28 near Beaufort, South Carolina.