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S'pore close to signing 'most ambitious' F-16 upgrade deal with US
Publication Date : 16-01-2014
Singapore is close to signing a deal worth up to US$2.43 billion with the United States to modernise its entire fleet of 60 F-16 fighter jets.
The investment, if it happens, will be the largest and most ambitious yet in the 45-year history of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), it is believed.
It will allow Singapore to fit its F-16s with new radars, laser-guided bombs and smart cluster bombs - one of which is enough to affect an area the size of 20 football fields.
Also included in the package are training, aerial refuelling and logistical support services.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had announced in Parliament last September that the RSAF was looking at upgrading the F-16s to "extend their lifespan".
The Defence Ministry (Mindef) told The Straits Times on Wednesday that "negotiations are still ongoing".
Referring to a notice issued by the Pentagon to the US Congress on Tuesday highlighting the possible deal, Mindef said this was "not a formal contract of purchase".
"We will ensure all our operational requirements are fulfilled before committing to the upgrade programme," it added.
The Pentagon said in its note to Congress that the proposed deal will "improve the security of a strategic partner which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region".
The Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees US weapon system sales abroad, also said on its website that the upgrades "will address reliability, supportability and combat effectiveness concerns associated with (Singapore's) ageing F-16 fleet".
The latest round of upgrades, which is the most extensive since the RSAF got its first F-16C and D variants in 1998, is timely as the electronics and avionics on the jets are "ageing", said defence observer David Boey.
"The F-16s still have a few good years ahead. But the electronics and sensors will have to be upgraded to increase their bandwidth, processing speed and networking capabilities. This is to catch up with today's state-of-the-art technology."
The F-16s have been put through their paces in complex war games at home and overseas, most recently the two-week-long integrated live-firing exercise, dubbed Forging Sabre, in Arizona.
Ace pilots from the RSAF's aerial display team, the Black Knights, have also flown the F-16s to perform aerobatics.
The last five years have seen the RSAF embark on efforts to modernise its capabilities. These include getting its 24 F-15 jets - which were delivered in 2009 - combat-ready.
Most recently, the RSAF bought a new Aster-30 surface-to-air missile system to boost its air defence shield.