US OKs Sale of a Dozen F-35B Fighters to Singapore

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A Marine pilot demonstrates the capabilities of an F-35B.
A Marine pilot with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing demonstrates the capabilities of the F-35B Lightning II during the 2019 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show at MCAS Miramar, Calif., Sept. 28., 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Raynaldo Ramos)

The U.S. government has cleared the sale of the F-35 Lightning II jet to Singapore, expanding the Joint Strike Fighter program in the Pacific.

The State Department last week approved the sale of up to 12 short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) jets and related equipment to Singapore for approximately $2.75 billion, officials said in a news release.

Singapore will join the United Kingdom and the U.S. Marine Corps in flying the B variant. Italy, which has a single B variant operated by its Navy, has committed to buying more; Japan has also committed to buying STOVL jets.

But the majority of allied partner, or Foreign Military Sale (FMS), nations operate the conventional F-35A model, flown by the U.S. Air Force.

The STOVL option makes sense for the island city-state given Singapore's geographic constraints, according to Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

Related: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Saw Record Production, Big Hurdles in 2019

"Acquisition of the F-35 is in line with the long-term defense relationship between Singapore and the United States, which has supplied previous generations of fighter aircraft," Farley said in an Op-Ed published in The Diplomat.

"Historically, the desire for vertical and/or short-takeoff and landing (VSTOL) capabilities was driven first by concerns over the availability of runway space during a general conflict," he said. "In this context, it's not at all difficult to see Singapore's interest in the aircraft. Singapore already trains and quarters much of its air force abroad, mostly due to a lack of space in and around the country. While the F-35B doesn't eliminate that problem entirely, it does simplify some operational problems during periods of conflict."

The sale will expand the stealth jet's network of global operators.

The program was founded by nine partner nations: the U.S., the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada -- though Canada has not committed to buying the aircraft. FMS customers include ­Israel, Japan, South Korea and Belgium.

In August, a group of Republican senators urged the Defense Department to expand the U.S.-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program with additional foreign sales to create a stronger coalition of allies.

In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Aug. 6, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said the U.S. would benefit by having more F-35s on flight lines around the world.

The lawmakers' call for expansion came shortly after the Pentagon lost one of its F-35 NATO partner nations.

The Defense Department officially booted Turkey from the program in July because of its purchase of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air-missile systems.

In September, the U.S. opened the door to Poland as a potential F-35 FMS customer. That month, Poland was approved to receive 32 Lockheed Martin-made F-35A Lightning II aircraft with support and associated equipment, for an estimated cost of $6.5 billion.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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