The city-state of Singapore is considering a major purchase of the F-35B JSF to upgrade its aging fleet of jets. The purchase would be a major boost for the F-35B program and Singapore’s air force.

Singapore F-35B

U.S. General Herbert Carlisle has claimed that Defense Minister Ng Cheng Meng has stated that Singapore would indeed buy the plane. Singapore, however, quickly dialed back and claimed that it was still in the evaluation period. It appears, however, that the F-35B is the leading candidate for replacing aging segments of the Singaporean Air Force.

The purchase of F-35Bs would be a major upgrade

The purchase of F-35Bs would be a major upgrade for Singapore’s military. Currently, Singapore’s air force consists of aging Boeing F-15SGs, Lockheed Martin F-16Cs and F-16Ds, and Northrop F-5S and  F-5T Tiger IIs. While many of these fighters are still among the best in the world, they are reaching the mid and end points of their life cycle. Over the next ten to fifteen years Singapore will have to upgrade most of its jets.

The sovereign city-state has the cash to afford plenty of upgrades. Singapore is one of the most fiscally healthy countries in the world and is estimated to have at least a half-trillion dollars in its various sovereign wealth funds and cash reserves. This tremendous wealth means that Singapore can buy the best equipment and afford to train and equip large numbers of troops.

While Singapore is a tiny city-state about the size of Chicago in terms of both area and population, it sports Asia’s most advanced military and is a regional power. The city-state uses a conscription program that requires most male high school graduates to serve for about 2 years in the armed forces. This allows the country to field an armed force of about 70,000 individuals, with an additional 800,000 people available to be called up through the reserves. For a population of only 4 million citizens, such as large army is remarkable.

Singapore’s military is positioned primarily as a defensive force. The city-state suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Japanese in World War II and barely put up a fight when the Japanese invaded. Since independence from Britain in 1963, the nation has upgraded its military to be one of the most advanced and powerful in the world. An invasion of the city-state would now be impossible for any non-superpower and would likely be too costly to be practical even for a superpower.

Singapore’s habit of staying neutral in war

Singapore’s habit of staying neutral in regional and global conflicts also makes the country an unlikely candidate for invasion. Singapore’s military is significant, however, for balancing against growing Chinese power. Despite that fact that nearly three-quarters of the population is Chinese, Singapore is generally seen as favoring the West and its ASEAN allies than China.

As China rises, Singapore may gradually have to take a more muscular stance in the region. Many of its allies through ASEAN are currently embroiled in territorial disputes with China. While the Middle Kingdom’s rising economic power generally bodes well for the region, many fear that it may take a more aggressive military stance. And with the United States suffering from budget cuts and systemic economic problems, America might not always be there to guard the interests of countries like Singapore.

The purchase of F-35Bs would also be a major boost for the United States and could generate thousands of jobs for the country. The total lifetime costs of the F-35 program are estimated to be an astounding 1.5 trillion dollars for the U.S. government alone. The more countries that can bear the burden of the program’s massive costs, the better. And countries choosing American weapons over Russian, European, and Chinese counterparts helps to cement the status of the U.S. military as the world’s premier fighting force.