Singapore’s Steps: Modernizing the RSAF’s F-16 Fleet
In September 2013, Singapore confirmed its much-anticipated intent to upgrade its F-16C/Ds with improved radars and other changes. The move is part of wider-ranging improvements underway in Singapore. It’s also seen as an early example to many other F-16 operators around the world, who respect Singapore’s as a discerning buyer and may wish to do the same thing.
That decision is expected to launch at least 2 fierce competitions. One will be between Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems. The other will be between Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
RSAF: The Bigger Picture
With respect to the F-16s, Singapore has a number of options. First of all, Lockheed Martin and BAE can be expected to compete hard for the upgrade work. Lockheed Martin is the manufacturer, but Britain has picked up significant F-16 upgrade wins in the USA and around the world.
Then there’s the radar question. The new radars will use advanced AESA technology, improving range/ discrimination by 2x – 3x, offering entirely new modes of operation, and sharply reducing maintenance costs.
Lockheed Martin recently announced that Northrop Grumman’s SABR radar would be the cornerstone of its F-16V offering, which was unveiled at the 2012 Singapore air show. The F-16V can be bought as an upgrade, or as new fighters. Modernized American and Taiwanese F-16s will also use SABR.
On the other hand, South Korea picked Raytheon’s RACR radar for their advanced F-16 upgrade, and Singapore already flies with related Raytheon AN/APG-63v3 AESA radars in its 20 new F-15SGs. If Singapore also picks RACR for its F-16s, in order to take advantage of common software and radar mode development, it will give Raytheon a significant and much-needed boost in the global F-16 refit competition.
From a force structure point of view, Singapore has about 14 F-16C/Ds based in the USA for training, and another 48 F-16C/Ds in Singapore at Changi AB and Tengah AB. In the near future, they plan to expand Changi and Tengah and consolidate around both facilities, while closing Paya Lebar AB. Paya Lebar’s F-15SGs, upgraded F-5S interceptors, and C-130 transports will go elsewhere, though the 40 or so F-5s are due for phase out in the near future.
There is some question as to whether they will be replaced, though a March 2013 announcement that Singapore would buy more F-15SGs seems to indicate at least partial near-term replacement. The rest of that question hinges on Singapore’s timeline for acquiring F-35s. If they’re bought soon, they’ll grow the fleet, effectively replacing the F-5S with some F-16C/Ds. If Singapore postpones their F-35 buy, they will pay less per plane, and the F-35s will become de facto replacements for the F-16+ fleet as they age out. Upgrading the F-16s might suggest to some that Singapore intends to delay the F-35s, especially since they recently elected to expand their F-15SG fleet instead of making an expected announcement about 12 F-35Bs. In his September 2013 statement, Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen would say only that Singapore continues to evaluate the F-35′s suitability “in meeting our long-term security needs to further modernise our fighter fleet and replace our older aircraft.”
Singapore’s consolidation into just 2 main air bases adds operational risk to their future fleet, but protection is also being improved. Beyond Singapore’s confirmed F-16 upgrades and new F-15SGs, new IAI Gulfstream G550 CAEW jets have improved their advance airborne warning. On the ground, new mobile Spyder air defense systems from RAFAEL offer a more modern, longer-range complement to the legacy Rapier systems from Britain. At the top tier, MBDA’s long-range Aster-30 missiles will soon replace Raytheon’s MIM-23 I-Hawks on land, offering Singapore the ability to intercept short range ballistic missiles as well as aircraft, cruise missiles, etc. Singapore’s Formidable Class frigates already use a combination of Aster-15 and Aster-30 missiles, so the land-based Aster-30 buy will draw on an existing support network.
None of Singapore’s immediate neighbors can match this array, and Singapore’s qualitative advantage is large enough that it’s very unlikely anyone would test it. The city-state is extremely serious about its defense, with a long history of strong spending in this area. That well-known commitment, and the visibility of its strategic position, ensures that Singapore’s defense choices get attention far beyond their immediate neighborhood.
Contracts & Key Events
Sept 16/13: Singapore’s Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen’s Parliamentary reply confirms that Singapore has picked MBDA’s Aster-30 as its upper-tier air defense system on land, and will upgrade their F-16s. The planes will be refitted with new electronics and systems, and the RSAF also plans to extend their service lives. Sources: Singapore MINDEF, “Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base”.
- YouTube – New Lockheed Martin F-16V Singapore Airshow 2012 HD. By LMCO.
- Lockheed Martin (Feb 15/12) – Lockheed Martin’s Fighting Falcon Evolves With New F-16V
- DID – South Korea Looking to Upgrade its KF-16 Fighters. They picked Raytheon’s RACR AESA radar.
- DID – Import or Die: Taiwan’s (Un?)Stalled Force Modernization. Taiwan’s F-16s will carry Northrop Grumman’s SABR radar, picked for them by the USAF.
- DID – Singapore’s RSAF Decides to Fly Like An Eagle. In April 2013, it became clear that Singapore would grow their F-15SG fleet again, instead of buying 12 F-35Bs.
- Defense News (March 22/10) – [F-5] Retirement or Replacement?
- DTI (Jan-Feb. 2008) – Target Acquisition: MAST Highlights Missile Defense Concepts. Says that the Formidable Class carries both Aster-15s and Aster-30s, along with the Herakles active radar and Sylver A50 launchers.