• Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16Cs and an F-16D in formation.

Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16Cs and an F-16D in formation. (Photo : RSAF)

Singapore has chosen a moment of rising tensions against China to announce it's considering acquiring the deadly and stealthy Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II to spearhead its already formidable air force, which is currently the most powerful in Southeast Asia.

This move might be calculated to place China on the back foot because of an ongoing tiff with Chinese propaganda sheet the Global Times. Or it might be Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen chose to sort of confirm rumors. But the timing itself does raise eyebrows.

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Ng said the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) might acquire the F-35 somewhere in the 2030s. He was reported to have described the stealth fighter as "a good plane, but our needs aren't so urgent at this point and time."

He noted the RSAF's powerful fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-15SG and General Dynamics F-16C and F-16D will remain front line combat aircraft into the next two decades. The U.S. Air Force in December 21015 awarded Lockheed a $914 million contract to update RSAF's F-16 fleet under a foreign military sales agreement.

Singapore will only be the third Asian country apart from Japan and Australia to show an interest in the F-35. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) already has two operational F-35As with a further 70 on order.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force will take delivery of its first four F-35As this December. It has orders for 38 more, which will be built in Japan.

The RSAF with its inventory of 62 F-16C/D and 40 F-15SG strike fighters is currently the strongest air force in terms of numbers and offensive power among all member states of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), to which Singapore belongs.

The RSAF has about as many modern air superiority and attack jets as the Indonesian Air Force and the Royal Malaysian Air Force combined. Only the RAAF can match the RSAF in numbers of modern air superiority and attack aircraft.