The largest defense equipment program in history was always going to have a significant global impact, so it is little surprise that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is of pivotal importance to the defense communities of East Asia – and to the Singapore Air Show.
“Singapore operates a lot of Lockheed Martin products, and is a long-term partner,” Lockheed Martin’s F-35 business development director, Steve O’Bryan, tells ShowNews. “But we’re not at the Singapore Air Show only to support Singapore. The U.S. government will be there as well, and we will be supporting them in any meetings and discussions on the F-35 program with any of the other regional partners.”
Those partners are Singapore, Australia, South Korea and Japan, and it is the latter where much of the regional focus on the F-35 program will fall in 2014. Japan’s first four F-35As – part of low rate initial production tranche 8 (LRIP 8), due for delivery in 2016 – will enter the production line at Lockheed’s F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas, early this year, with all subsequent Japanese aircraft built at a new Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya.
The Nagoya site, run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, will avoid new construction wherever possible. “We’re going to maximize existing facilities as best we can, and so is MHI, to try to keep prices as low as possible,” O’Bryan says. No date for opening has been confirmed, but the first aircraft scheduled to be assembled at Nagoya are part of LRIP 9, and are due to be delivered in 2017.
The South Korean picture is less certain. The nation is running a competition to meet its F-X Phase III requirement, which was revised last November; the program will mean the purchase of 40 aircraft between 2018 and 2021, with a possible further order of an additional 20. News reports suggest these will be F-35As, but O’Bryan remains cautious.
“The updated requirement stated that they need an aircraft with ‘the most advanced stealth capabilities possible.’” he says. “We understand they’ll do a feasibility study before source selection through their acquisition board. What we would say is that the F-35 is available to meet the Republic of Korea’s 2018 delivery requirements, and it will be in the Block 3F [software] configuration.”
While Japan and South Korea are export customers for F-35, Singapore is a Security Co-operative Participant nation. Nevertheless, the country has yet to finalize an order, with the defense minister, Ng Eng Hen, saying during a November visit to the U.S. that the nation was in no rush to acquire the JSF.
“Singapore has been [involved] since 2004, so they have insight into the program,” O’Bryan explains. “They’ve been evaluating the aircraft, and I know they’re considering a procurement timeline. It’s our job to help and support them with that.”