WASHINGTON: 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.

The fact that American allies in the Pacific are the ones committing to the controversial and over-budget aircraft is telling. If you want to understand the calculus driving these choices, first look at China, which to countries such as Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea is the primary long-term threat.

The Singaporeans are extremely shy about declaring their intentions in public, eager to offer few chances for China and Malaysia to react, but two sources familiar with the program confirmed the likely announcement. Given Singapore’s tiny size, its choice of which of the three F-35 versions to buy is not surprising. A plane that can take off almost vertically and can land vertically is able to operate from a much smaller footprint than, say the F-35A (the Air Force version) or F-16 Block 60s. And, given Singapore’s geography, the F-35B makes great sense for its ability to operate closely with the US Marines — as well as with F-35Cs operating from our aircraft carriers.

The Singaporeans’ decision will eventually leave China — and Russia, still something of a Pacific power — facing 50 to 100 Australian F-35As, 42 F-35As in Japan, 75Bs in Singapore and however many of the three versions built and fielded by the Untied States are regularly in the Pacific. Then consider the F-35, which offers the first true integrated global supply chain for a major weapon system and offers highly classified capabilities which America had previously not made available to allies.

But the underlying reason for the choice of Singapore and the other Pacific countries may be found in the conclusion of these countries about the F-35′s effectiveness. One senior official from the region, who has access to the most sensitive classified information about the system, told me recently that the F-35 is “simply undefeatable.” And this official said the aircraft is expected to maintain its dominance for at least one quarter of a century.

If you link the F-35s from Singapore, Japan and Australia with the US planes that will be stationed throughout the Pacific at Air Force bases, on aircraft carriers and on the Gator Navy’s ships, then the US and allied presence will loom large in an arc from Alaska west and south to the bottom of the South China Sea and then back down to Australia and across to Hawaii. Strengthening this highly capable net will be the new F-35 plant Japan is expected to announce soon. Mistubishi Heavy Industries is expected to construct a plant to build Japan’s F-35s. It would eventually provide the US and its Pacific allies with a central repair and replacement plant in the region, one in addition to any repair centers the US builds in the region.

Add the regular port visits to Singapore by the Littoral Combat Ship fleet to the F-35 decision and you’ve got a pretty powerful national security statement by the tiny state.

Can you say AirSea Battle?

Comments

  • TerryTee

    Lets see Singapore plans to buy 12 and the Dutch plan on scaling back on their order big time ” Dutch F-35 Orders Likely Scaled Back: Reuters” because they planned on buying 85 , but because of the Major Price increase they can only afford 33 with the amount of money they currently have budgeted for new aircraft and need at least 50-68 fighters .I see new Gripen NG’s in the Dutch future just like Sweden, the Swiss, and possibly the Netherlands and the Finns.
    Aviation Week
    http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/awx_03_22_2013_p0-561828.xml

    And I quote from ” Defense Aerospace ” “The Dutch Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has already scheduled presentations of their competing fighters by Boeing and Saab, and the situation is also being monitored by the Eurofighter consortium.”
    Defense Aerospace
    http://www.defense-aerospace.com/article-view/release/143675/dutch-likely-to-cut-f_35-order-by-up-to-one_third.html

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      12 in first tranche for Singapore. They plan to buy 75 total,

      Colin Clark
      Editor
      AOL Defense

      • TerryTee

        I know but countries are bailing on the JSF faster than they are buying it ( confirmed orders with $$$). Australia is buying more F-18 SH’s so they will buy less, the UK & Italy have already scaled their orders back buy close to 100 airframes. Canada, the Netherlands and maybe the Dutch are now having “Fly Off’s”. The Navy wants to up-grade their Super Hornets “USN looking at adding conformal fuel tanks on F/A-18E/F–also a look at Super Hornet RCS reduction measures” so I’d bet they will buy less.
        Flight Global
        http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/2013/03/usn-looking-at-adding-conforma.html.
        So the price per plane will go up even more and more countries will drop out, because with everything based on the US getting 2400 and a total of 3100 airframes, which is not going to happen.

        • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

          Oz has not yet made a decision. The minister wants to keep the full buy of 100, is my understanding. I’m not sure how much choice the US navy will have on whether to buy more 18s.
          Colin Clark
          Editor
          AOL Defense

  • JimBobJoe

    It makes sense that America would keep the F-35′s capabilities secret. Capabilities which may actually justify it’s cost. But, maybe this is everyone’s little fantasy coping mechanism to not have to experience how sickening the F-35′s costs are. From everything I’ve read, it seems like every country wants to get it’s hands on it once they are briefed on the capabilities. A South Korean order for it’s F-X III would be a huge validation.

    Keep in mind that European countries are undergoing extreme financial stress, as the EU economic blocks’ economy did not grow, but rather contracted last year, including every participant in the F-35 program. Budgets have been slammed, which affected the outlays for the F-35. In a few years when the EU is on the upswing, they will probably find room for additional orders. Australia’s second batch of F-18′s is just a stop gap measure.

    And, with all the quantitative easing the Fed is implementing, driving down the value of the dollar, doesn’t this make the F-35 relatively much cheaper for other countries than America?

    I can also see India being a future candidate for the F-35B for it’s aircraft carriers, as they won’t have steam catapults, which the Rafale requires. And who the hell would want the Mig-29 when you can have the F-35.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.longmire.71 James Longmire

    What or who exactly is your source for this claim, Colin?

    • Colin Clark

      Can’t tell you if you’re asking about the Aussie info. If you’re asking about the F-18s I’m drawing a rational conclusion based on many discussions with navy and OSD types. Also, as Sydney has reported, the CNO has made pretty clear the Navy’s commitment to the F-35C is actually quite strong because of the aging Hornet fleet. http://defense.aol.com/2012/07/13/navy-may-buy-more-f-35s-not-fewer-under-f-a-xx-initiative/

      • http://www.facebook.com/james.longmire.71 James Longmire

        I was referring to Singapore ordering F-35s. Because the only thing I’ve seen as a ‘source’ are various renditions of “said two US government officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.”(Reuters Mar 16, 2013)

        IOW, who are these *unauthorized* US government officials, and what exactly makes them credible?

        • Shawn

          The source of much of John O’Callaghan’s article (Reuters March 14) stems from a parliamentary statement made by Singapore’s defense minister during a Committee of Supply Debate (full text: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/content/imindef/press_room/official_releases/sp/2013/12mar13_speech.html#.UVQj845CjZQ). In this statement, the the minister stated “…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.”

          It is a known fact that Singapore, as a Security Cooperateion Participant of the JSF programme since 2004, is very likely to purchase the F-35. What is still unknown is the aircraft type and final figures, and both these points mentioned in Colin Clark’s article have not been substantiated by other published sources. The upper figure of ’75′, for example, may very well be an overinflation – a similar figure of 72 was quoted when Singapore announced the initial purchase of 12 F-15SG Strike Eagle in 2005, but total aircraft purchased to date is 24, with the second order placed back in 2007.

          O’Callaghan states in his article that a source claims “Singapore’s F-35 order is expected to include the Marine Corps’ B-model”, but that cannot be interpreted to mean that Singapore’s entire procurement of the F-35 would exclusively be B-models.

          Here’s a cookie for you. Read the minister’s statement and note that he mentions a submarine replacement program, this is the first on record mention that Singapore is in the process of acquiring new submarines

          • Colin Clark

            The folks I spoke with must remain anonymous or they won’t be able to function very well… I know the Singaporeans believe the information is accurate. But I can’t tell you how I know. The strange intersection of commerce, diplomacy and national security which is arms exports makes life complicated both for the press and for those who want to get the news out, for whatever reasons…

          • CharleyA

            As long as those sources aren’t connected to Dr. Laird or Dr. Thompson, both who derive income from the success of the program.

  • Demosthenes

    Just putting this out there, but should a conflict with the Chinese arise in the region Singapore will in all likelihood play the role of a resolute Switzerland. A Singapore-US alliance in the midst of such a conflict is likely to implode on itself.

    • trgnoobie

      But with the Chinese having similar interests in Singapore and SEA, would the Chinese not think twice about causing trouble?

    • http://twitter.com/tomcat24 Jiesheng Li

      Who’s to say there’s such an alliance? Singapore values China as an ally too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1349619641 John A. Henneberger

    “the aircraft is expected to maintain its dominance for at least one quarter of a century.”

    Delivery won’t even occur for a quarter century at this pace.

  • CharleyA

    The F-35B makes sense for Singapore – and they can afford them. Whether they buy 75 or so depends on lots of factors. What is kind of creepy is the infatuation developing around the F-35 series, SLD Info style. I’d be more concerned if the F-35 will play well with others, which its older brother, the F-22, has not been able to do …

    • mike webber

      What are you talking about?

      The Luftwaffe claim that their Typhoons had “Raptor salad for lunch”

      Well Raptor pilots said they “ended up with numerous gunshot kills” refering to Typhoons?

      Read more here:
      http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/in-focus-german-eurofighters-impress-during-red-flag-373312/

      or the Rafale video on youtube locking up on the Raptor?

      The Raptor was killed twice in that video, don’t you wonder how many times the Rafale was killed in that video, there were some shots where in when the Rafale saw the Raptor, its nose was already pointed at it
      if you watch it again

  • http://twitter.com/E_L_P Eric Palmer

    LOL- “undefeatable” and then a link to that questionable piece about the F-35 in the Pacific. — “If you want to understand the calculus driving these choices, first look at China, which to countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Australia is the primary long-term threat.”— The two reference threats in the West to simulate emerging PacRim threats are the F-22 (playing the PAK-FA) and the Typhoon (playing the SU-3X). It is doubtful that the F-35 can defeat an F-22 or Typhoon. Especially with no working mission systems of worth (marketing spin is not a valid mission system). Also, this is an FMS buy. The aircraft has to show up delivered in working form. And, there are real off-sets. Something the original Joint Strike Fighter Partner Nations should feel cheated about when they signed up for the “best value” Ponzi scheme.

    • trgnoobie

      The F-35 is at parity with the F-22.

      Despite being less manoeuvrable and is slower, the F-35 has more modern and more advanced avionics than the F-22.

      At BVR combat, the F-35 might have the upper hand.

      • Euro

        It will not have the upper hand considering that the F-22 is got superior stealth, better IR-reduction and is supercruising which allow the F-22 to fire the same missile but with a far greater range.

        The F-35 essentially got one advantage and that is the IRST systems but compared to other modern aircrafts they either got a shorter range (DAS) or suffer from the EOTS being mounted below the nose.

        • trgnoobie

          Certain angles of the F-35 have better stealth than the F-22.

        • trgnoobie

          And supercruising does not improve a missile’s range.

  • AWACer

    You should probably stop writing about airpower issues. It makes no sense to have the F-35B. F-35A, I can understand…even the F-35C. But the F-35B is the most complicated version, has the lowest payload and range, and the airstrip footprint is completely irrelevant since Singapore will continue flying F-15s. The F-35B brings nothing of value to Singapore that’s superior to its more capable siblings, which will be EVERY BIT as able to communicate with allied forces. Vertical landings will rarely, if ever, occur because a standard landing is safer. In short, I see no evidence that you have any idea what you’re actually talking about, and this article reads more like a blog from a JROTC cadet who subscribes to Jane’s.

    • trgnoobie

      AWACer, I’m not sure if you are from Singapore, but our mainland is over 700 kilometres squared in area. That’s just about the same size as NYC.

      If our air assets do not have to be limited to conventional runways, it will be advantageous.

      My disappointment is that Singapore never approached the Swedes for any of their fighters. The JAS 39 is optimized for short take off, and is designed to have ease of maintenance. In my opinion, the F-15 has an impressive pedigree, but is aging fast.

  • Daniel

    I’m with those that say the B is not a viable buy for Singapore. Same case with the Harriers we looked back in the 80s and discarded the idea, the increased maintanence and downtime as well as the degraded performance capabilities are not worth the VTOL capabilities. The A is a very much more likely purchase option.

    For the source, Singapore’s Defence Minister finally came out of the closet and admitted he was ga…*cough* that they are getting the F-35, which is not really a surprise as Singapore was long a silent co-participant in the program and they would want their money’s worth back at least.

    Clark, 75 is a bit low, they are supposed to replace the A-4s and the F-5s that are being retired, 8 squadrons, which is 96 units at least, though the price tag might be the reason they gave the number a haircut.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcat24 Jiesheng Li

      B version has the shortest range out of the three. There’s no reason why A can’t be purchased. Singapore’s Air Bases are good enough for the A version.

    • Shawn

      It’s the usual ‘Defense Creep’. The A4s were actually replaced by 20 F-16Ds and 24 AH-64Ds in the mid-2000s. The F-5s are basically point interceptors, a role which the F-16Cs can easily take over. If the RSAF was looking for a straight up F-5 replacement, then the simplest would be to purchase more F-16Cs, or else the Gripen.

  • Andrew Robertson

    South Korea hasn’t signed anything yet. They are still strongly evaluating the F-15K. He shouldn’t have listed them. I hope Singapore has the balls to refuse buying the F-35 before it wastes their money. If they refused it would also send a message to the other countries that they don’t have to give way to Lockheed lobbyists and would kill the F-35 program faster.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003499052389 Aman Þórr Þunraz Sandhu

    Big question remains..what will the Malaysian Air Force do to counter this.

  • http://twitter.com/tomcat24 Jiesheng Li

    This is a silly option for Singapore, even if the argument is the lack of airspace. The C or A version is much better.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SZCKVXBPOWWUDJ2JEL2JQC6SIE SH

    I am from S’pore; 75? no way; probably 12-24.

  • PolicyWonk

    Hmmm. If Singapore intends to purchase F-35B’s, that does open up where they can be based and/or fly from regardless of where the trouble spots happen to be.

    The F-35B variants can operate off carriers, many assault ship classes, and out many more places than the A or C variants, which could be a good thing given the neighborhood.

    LIke the Harrier which has its complexities and disadvantages, so does the F-35B when compared to the other available types (let alone F/A 18′s, etc.).

    • http://twitter.com/tomcat24 Jiesheng Li

      Singapore’s RSN ships do not have the platforms for F-35 size aircraft and Singapore has never flown its fighters from foreign ships before.

      • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

        Because something has not been done before does not mean it won’t be done. But what we are really talking about here is close coordination, even tactical operations, between the US and Singaporean forces– and other partners, should the need arise.
        Colin Clark
        Editor
        AOL Defense

  • Tholzel

    ” the F-35 is “simply undefeatable.””
    Sure, one-on-one against any other fighter. But not against 10 other fighters, or a barage of heat-seeking missiles, etc., etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.longmire.71 James Longmire

    Well, it’s been three weeks since Singapore was going to announce the purchase of the F-35B, but so far, the only official announcement vis new jet fighters is this:

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/singapores-rsaf-decides-to-fly-like-an-eagle-01141/

  • IT

    Latest comment by MINDEF…no hurry to consider F35. Probably a nice way of saying Thanks But No Thanks. Too costly, too troublesome, probally too late. Super Hornets would do a better job plus latests F15SG and F16 block 52/60. At least pilots have faith in them. Stealth and supercruise is overrated

    • mike webber

      or probably best taken for wahat it is.
      instead of trying to make stuff up

      Pilots had faith on the F-86 to, why don’t they buy that

  • Supernova1987

    In fact it would make sense for many customers to get a mix of As and Bs. The As can be dedicated to attacking targets at the maximum range and to use large weapons like the 2000lbs JDAMs and JSOWs. For anything else the B is more survivable on the ground and tactical planes spend most of their day stationned on the ground.
    The Bs would concentrate on attaking targets with 8 internal SDBs. 8 targets destroyed per sortie is a lot.
    The B costs about 15% more than the A but the acquisition cost is only about 1/3 of the operationnal cost of a plane throughout its service life. The B can be used in CTOL mode for most training missions, so the extra cost of operating Bs vs As is insignificant.
    Even the USAF should get a mix of A and Bs to increase its projection capabilities.