| SINGAPORE, March 14
SINGAPORE, March 14 Singapore is in the "final
stages of evaluating" the F-35 to upgrade its air force, a
process U.S. sources say should turn quickly into orders for
several dozen of the stealthy warplanes that have been beset by
cost overruns and delivery delays.
Singapore, a major business and shipping hub with the
best-equipped military in Southeast Asia, is expected to submit
a "letter of request" soon for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,
said two U.S. government officials who were not authorized to
speak publicly on the matter.
The city-state could start the process as soon as this week
to buy the planes built by Lockheed Martin Corp, one of
the officials said. Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United
Technologies Corp, makes the engine for the F-35.
Singapore's defence minister, Ng Eng Hen, said on Tuesday
the air force "has identified the F-35 as a suitable aircraft to
further modernise our fighter fleet".
"Our F-5s are nearing the end of their operational life and
our F-16s are at their mid-way mark," he said in parliament. "We
are now in the final stages of evaluating the F-35."
Ng gave no timeline but said the defence ministry "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."
Singapore's air force now has 24 F-15SGs, 20 F-16Cs and 40
F-16Ds, 28 F-5Ss and nine F-5Ts, according to the International
Institute for Strategic Studies. It also has 19 AH-64D Apache
attack helicopters among its other assorted aircraft.
The wealthy island nation of about 5.3 million people plans
to spend S$12.3 billion ($9.85 billion) on defence in the 2013
fiscal year that starts in April, a rise of 4.3 percent from the
previous year, the government's budget shows.
Singapore - home to a global financial centre, the world's
second-busiest container port and major energy operations - is
the region's biggest military spender, dwarfing its much larger
neighbours Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
BEHIND SCHEDULE AND OVER BUDGET
As Washington turns its economic and security attention to
the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region, it is encouraging more
exports of weapons such as the F-35 to strengthen links with
allies and offset cuts in its own procurement programmes.
Lockheed, under a $396 billion programme that is already
seven years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost
estimates, is building three variations of the F-35 for the U.S.
military and eight international partners that are helping to
fund the plane's development.
The development partners are Britain, Australia, Canada,
Norway, Denmark, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands. But rising
costs, delivery delays and budget pressures have forced some to
rethink the size of their orders and consider alternatives.
Singapore became a minor partner in the programme in 2003,
along with Israel, which has ordered 19 of the jets so far.
Singapore's F-35 order is expected to include the Marine
Corps' B-model, which can take off from shorter runways and
lands like a helicopter, said a source familiar with that
variation of the plane.
Due to the city-state's small size and limited air space,
its air force trains its fighter pilots in the United States and
its helicopter pilots in Australia.
Singapore was the world's fifth-largest importer of
conventional weapons in 2008-2012, at 4 percent of the global
total, trailing India, China, Pakistan and South Korea, the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says.