In September 2013, Singapore confirmed its much-anticipated intent to upgrade its F-16C/Ds with improved radars and other changes. By January 2014, that was a published DSCA request. There’s no firm timeline just yet, but the proposal is part of wider-ranging military 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
After the 2004 sale to Thailand of the RSAF’s initial handful of F-16A/B fighters, the RSAF became an all Block 52 force, built with fighters accepted between 1998 – 2004. Their planes aren’t entirely standard set. The long dorsal spine on many F-16Ds holds extra electronic countermeasures, and the planes reportedly carry a number of Israeli systems within, including DASH-III helmet mounted displays.
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. Current plans indicate an intent to upgrade up to 60 planes at about $40.5 million per plane.
Basing will also change. 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 the F-5s 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.
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Singapore has a number of options with respect to their F-16s.
Contractor. 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.
AESA. 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.
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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.
There’s also the non-US option of using the Israeli ELM-2052 AESA, but the US reportedly took protectionist measures and threatened to cut off F-16 support if Israel introduced that radar to its own F-16s. Export to Singapore seems unlikely.
Contracts & Key Events
February 13/20: Upgrade Lockheed Martin Corp. won a $67.6 million contract modification for upgrading Singapore’s F-16s. The aircraft are equipped with with Advanced Medium Range air-to-air missiles linked to a DASH-3 Mounted Sight. The deal modifies a contract awarded in 2015 with options that, if exercised, would bring the total value of the contract to $980.4 million. Upgrades for 60 of Singapore’s F-16C/D Block 52 Fighting Falcon fighter jets were approved earlier that year through the US Foreign Military Sales program. Work will take place in Fort Worth, Texas and in Singapore. Estimated completion date is June 30, 2023.
March 21/19: Weapons System Support KT Consulting won an $11.9 million firm-fixed-price task order for F-16 Weapons System support. The contract involves a Foreign Military Sale to Singapore. The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine, supersonic multirole fighter. Early fighters could be armed with up to six AIM-9 Sidewinder, heat-seeking, short-range air-to-air missiles (AAM), and radar guided AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range AAMs. The recent versions of the aircraft support AIM-120 AMRAAM. The Republic of Singapore Air Force operates 62 F-16 Fighting Falcons, all of which are advanced F-16C/D block 52 aircraft. These aircraft are equipped with state-of the-art armament, including AIM-120 AMRAAM as well as presumably the Israeli Python 4 missile linked to a DASH-3 Helmet Mounted Sight. Work will take place at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and is scheduled to be finished by March 31, 2024. Fiscal 2019 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $4,435,581 and Singapore National Funds in the amount of $34,969 are being obligated at the time of award.
December 3/15: The US Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded a $914 million contract to Lockheed Martin to upgrade F-16 aircraft for the government of Singapore. The work is to be carried out at Fort Worth, Texas. The number of aircraft to be upgraded is unknown, but the DoD notified Congress that they had approved the sale of upgrades for 60 fighters in 2014. The Singapore Air Force announced earlier this year that it was planning a major overhaul of its current fleet, with enhancements including laser-designated JDAM munitions, air-to-air weapons, datalink capability and helmet mounted displays, in addition to an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system.
July 6/15: Singapore’s Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) has released more information on its plans to upgrade the RSAF’s fleet of F-16C/D fighters. The upgrades will take place in phases from 2016 onward, with various capability enhancements planned. These include laser-designated JDAM munitions, air-to-air weapons, datalink capability and helmet mounted displays, as well as an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system, as per a previous DSCA request. The AESA system is thought to be the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) system. Singapore announced its intention to upgrade its F-16s in 2013, with Lockheed Martin seemingly tipped to win the upgrade contract.
March 19/15: Lockheed tipped to win. Singapore is reportedly close to signing a contract with Lockheed Martin to upgrade its F-16s, after a cancelled deal with BAE in November. The country initially confirmed its intention to upgrade the fleet in September 2013.
Feb 10/14: Boeing? Boeing DSS VP for business development and strategy Chris Raymond says that Boeing would be interested in bidding, if Singapore were to open their F-16 upgrade program to competition. Boeing is an unlikely competitor, given their thin record servicing and enhancing global F-15 fleets. Raymond cites their experience with the QF-16 conversion, and with other fighter and aircraft upgrades. They could also leverage an existing relationship with the RSAF, supporting their F-15SG fighters and AH-64D Apache helicopters.
Lockheed Martin has indicated that NGC’s SABR radar is their preferred choice for upgrades, and for new-build F-16Vs. BAE is tied to Raytheon’s RACR via their South Korean experience. Boeing doesn’t have an official allegiance, but their in-production fighters both carry Raytheon AESA radars, and there’s a RACR variant for F/A-18A-D upgrades. Sources: Aviation Week, “Boeing Could Bid On Singapore F-16s”.
Jan 14/14: DSCA. The US DSCA details Singapore’s official request to upgrade 60 F-16C/D+ Block 52 fighters to something like the F-16V standard, at a cost of up to $2.43 billion ($40.5 million per plane). That’s about 2/3 the cost of buying similar F-16E/F Block 60 aircraft new off of the production line.
Upgrades would include:
* 70 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radars (AESA). Note that no pick is being made here between Raytheon’s RACR (South Korea) or Northrop Grumman’s SABR (Taiwan, US ANG).
* 70 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS)
* 70 LN-260 Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems (GPS/INS)
* 70 APX-125 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Combined Interrogator Transponders
* 1 AIS Interface Test Adapters for software updates
* 1 Classified Computer Program Identification Numbers (CPINs)
* Site surveys and construction. Note that Singapore is busy consolidating its air bases after removing Paya Lebar.
* Also included: flight test of the new configuration; aircraft ferry services with aerial refueling support; a Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS); Modular Mission Computers, a software maintenance facility, cockpit multifunction displays, radios, secure communications, video recorders; maintenance, repair and return, aircraft and ground support equipment, spare and repair parts, tool and test equipment; engine support equipment, publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US Government and contractor support.
They also want a set of test weapons:
* 3 AIM-9X Block II Captive Air Training Missiles. Singapore already fields AIM-9X on its F-15SGs.
* 3 TGM-65G Maverick Missiles for testing and integration. GM-65K is the latest standard.
* 4 GBU-50 Guided Bomb Units (GBU) for testing and integration (2,000 pound laser-guided bunker-buster)
* 5 GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions for testing and integration (500 pound GPS)
* 3 CBU-105 (D-4)/B Sensor Fused Weapons for testing and integration (GPS anti-armor cluster bomb)
* 4 GBU-49 Enhanced Paveways for testing and integration (500 pound GPS/laser)
* 2 DSU-38 Laser Seekers for testing and integration
* 6 GBU-12 Paveway II, Guidance Control Units (used in 500 pound laser-guided)
Contractors aren’t mentioned specifically, implying that they’re still to be chosen by Singapore. In terms of overall priorities, Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen said recently that the F-16 fleet’s condition and prospective upgrades meant that they were in “no particular hurry” to make an F-35 decision, though it’s a “serious consideration.” Sources: DSCA #13-67 | Defense News, “US: Singapore To Buy Upgrade For Its F-16 Fighter Jets”.
DSCA request: F-16 upgrades
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.
* 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.
News & Views
* Fort Worth Star-Telegram (June 11/14) – At Alliance, BAE Systems challenges Lockheed on F-16 upgrades.
* Aviation Week (Feb 3/14) – Fast-Changing Trends In Asia Fighter Market
* DID (Sept 18/13) – Singapore’s Steps: Long-Range Aster-30 Defensive Missiles on Land & Sea.
* Lockheed Martin (Feb 15/12) – Lockheed Martin’s Fighting Falcon Evolves With New F-16V
* 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.