More F-35 stealth fighters heading to China's doorstep

The announcement of the acquisition of the F-35s is accompanied by a significant increase in Singapore’s defense budget, which will reach $15 billion in 2024.

Singapore increases its arsenal with eight additional F-35As, adding a total of 20  F-35s  to replace its F-16 fleet by 2030. This strategic move, accompanied by a budget increase to $15 billion, seeks to consolidate its position as a regional power and modernize its defense without encouraging an arms race.

Singapore’s commitment to air superiority with the F-35

More F-35 stealth fighters heading to China's doorstep
F-35A

Against a backdrop of rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific, Singapore has decided to strengthen its air capabilities by acquiring eight F-35A fighters in addition to the twelve  F-35Bs previously ordered. This order is part of a broader effort to replace its fleet of  F-16s  with fifth-generation aircraft, which represents a qualitative leap in terms of air combat technology.

Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen has emphasized the importance of this upgrade, highlighting the  F-35 ‘s multirole and stealth capabilities. According to the minister, these features will increase the Republic of Singapore Air Force ( RSAF ) operational effectiveness and strengthen its position in the region as a “first division” air force.

The first four F-35Bs are scheduled to be delivered in 2026, followed by eight  F-35As  in 2028, ushering in a new era for the RSAF. This aerial modernization is part of a framework of growth and budget readjustment that reflects Singapore’s desire to maintain a balance between the modernization of its armed forces and the prevention of an arms escalation in the region.

Budget increase and strategic balance in defense of Singapore

The announcement of the acquisition of the  F-35 is accompanied by a significant increase in Singapore’s defense budget, which will reach $15 billion in 2024. This 13% increase compared to the previous year reflects the priority the Singaporean government gives defense in a complex geostrategic environment.

Despite this increase, Minister Ng has emphasized the sustainability of defense investment, highlighting that the current percentage of GDP dedicated to this purpose results from a decades-long effort to build a robust and efficient armed force. Singapore’s strategy focuses on the long term, seeking to reap the rewards of investments made over the past two decades.

In addition to acquiring F-35 fighters, Singapore has ordered four Type 218SG submarines from  Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, demonstrating a balanced approach toward modernizing its military capabilities. This approach is based on diversifying its defense assets, ensuring an effective response capacity to a wide range of security scenarios.

Singapore’s strategic vision in the face of the regional arms race

More F-35 stealth fighters heading to China's doorstep
An F-35B conducted environmental weapons testing at the Atlantic Test Range in 2015. (Michael D. Jackson/Lockheed Martin via US Department of Defense)

Minister Ng Eng Hen has expressed concern about the destabilizing potential of an arms race in the Indo-Pacific. Through the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, he warned of the risks of an uncontrolled increase in military spending in the region. In this regard, Singapore’s defense policy seeks to promote a security framework based on compromise and mutual restraint.

Investment in advanced systems such as the F-35 fighters and Type 218SG submarines reflects Singapore’s priority in maintaining a credible deterrence capability without escalating provocative military. This strategy underlines the importance of cooperation and dialogue in managing international relations and regional security.

Finally, the modernization of the RSAF and the strengthening of  Singapore’s submarine capabilities are indicative of a prudent and calculated approach to defense. This approach not only seeks to ensure Singapore’s sovereignty and national security but also contributes to lasting stability in the Indo-Pacific, avoiding the excesses of an unnecessary arms race.

Conclusion: Singapore and its path towards a balanced and sustainable defense

Singapore’s decision to increase its fleet of F-35 fighters and raise its defense budget reflects a commitment to military modernization and regional security. However, it does so with a long-term vision, seeking to avoid the pitfalls of an uncontrolled arms race.

The balance between investment and prudence, between modernization and regional stability, demonstrates the complexity of Singapore’s defense policy. In a world where power dynamics are changing rapidly, Singapore positions itself as a strategic player that understands the importance of force, moderation, and dialogue.

This strategic approach not only ensures Singapore’s territorial integrity and sovereignty but also contributes to a climate of security and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, a crucial balance for peace and stability in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.