[WASHINGTON] Singapore has put on hold a decision to buy as many as 12 of Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 jets, according to information from the Pentagon's program office.
The island nation's permanent secretary of defence development informed the US in mid-June that it was delaying final steps toward purchasing four of the fighters by about 2022, with an option to buy eight more, according to the information presented to Pentagon officials last month as part of their regular reviews of the costliest weapons program.
While Singapore gave no indication of when it might revive efforts to buy the F-35, the US continues to encourage the Asian city-state to buy the fighter.
"We welcome Singapore's interest in purchasing the F-35 aircraft," President Barack Obama said in opening remarks at a White House press conference last week with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In Dec 2014, Singapore submitted a "letter of request" to the US formally seeking information on purchasing the F-35, and it followed up in early 2015 by indicating it wanted the most complex model, the F-35B. Intended for short takeoffs and vertical landings on unimproved airstrips, the F-35B was designed for use by the US Marine Corps and has already been ordered by the UK and Italy.
Data Link, Radio
The US made a policy decision earlier this year allowing Singapore to integrate a data link and radio that it developed into its jets if purchased, according to the Pentagon's F-35 program office.
Singapore isn't a primary participant in the US$379 billion F-35 program. The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 jets for the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, while foreign partners currently plan to buy 612. Belgium, Poland, Finland, Spain also might include F-35s in future competitions, the Congressional Research Service said last month.
Singapore has "been uncertain on the F-35 for years," said Richard Aboulafia, a military aircraft analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.
"As a 'security cooperation partner' they were never as fully committed as the primary partners," he said in an e-mail.
"They have a large and very new fleet of F-16s and F-15s, and the threats they face don't really call for a plane in the F-35 class" so "any F-35 sale to Singapore was viewed as a relatively long-term proposition."
The Singapore ministry of defence said in an e-mailed statement that "as a small country with no strategic depth, Singapore will always need superior air capabilities to protect its interests and borders."
It cited a statement by the island's defence minister in 2013 that "our current fleet of fighter aircraft are adequate for our defence needs and the F-35 is still under evaluation."