Singapore Air Show

Asia Set to Spend Big On Airliners and Defense

 - February 10, 2014, 5:00 AM
F-35 Mock-up at Singapore Airshow

Airlines from Indonesia, Indian and Vietnam are expected to announce at least $17 billion worth of new aircraft orders at this week’s Singapore Airshow.

On the eve of the 2014 event, the Boeing sales force was working to nail down what is expected to be a contract for up to 50 of its new 737 Max models. The customer is expected to be an Indian operator, with Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Air India seen as the most likely buyers.

Airbus could strike back in the narrowbody battleground with a possible order for 90 A320. Sources close to the European airframer also indicated that Garuda Indonesia officials are in the late stages of negotiating a deal for 10 A330s. The flagcarrier is also understood to be evaluating new widebody requirements and during the Singapore show will be able to get a close look at both the Airbus A350XWB and the rival Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Early this morning leasing group GECAS is to announce a deal with an as yet unnamed Asian carrier. No further details of the aircraft involved were available at press time.

Military Spending

But military budgets are also high on the agenda at the Singapore Airshow. Among the major defense topics being discussed are whether Singapore will soon commit to buying Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Stealth Fighter, and whether it will entertain competition for an upgrade to its F16s. Meanwhile, Israel Aircraft Industries is unveiling a new version of the best-selling Heron UAV. The Super Heron has a heavy fuel engine and a multi-sensor suite.

On the F-35, the island state’s defense minister has been sending mixed signals. Last March, Dr Ng Eng Hen told the Singapore parliament that “we are in the final stages of evaluation.” Last December he viewed the F-35B at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. But on the same trip to the U.S., he told journalists at a press conference in the Pentagon that “we are in no hurry” to conclude a buy.

It could be that even Singapore is balking at the cost to acquire and operate the Lightning II, especially the F-35B. Conscious of its vulnerable airbase infrastructure, Singapore’s evaluation has focused on the STOVL version. But opting for the F-35B implies that Singapore is also looking to acquire or build an LHD-class warship from which to operate them. No such plan has been announced But this is a country where–according to the government–“by their very nature, defense procurement and spending are not normally the subjects of public discussion.”

On the F-16 upgrade, AIN understands that the Republic of Singapore Air Force has only been considering the combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES) offered by Lockheed Martin. This includes the Northrop Grumman scalable agile beam radar, an AESA unit offering some commonality with the F-35 radar. One attraction of the CAPES was commonality with the US Air Force F-16 fleet. But the Pentagon now seems unlikely to fund the CAPES for the USAF, leaving export customers to foot the entire bill for the non-recurring development costs.

BAE Systems has returned to the Singapore Airshow for the first time in eight years, hoping to focus Singapore’s attention on a lower-cost F-16 upgrade that the company’s U.S.-based subsidiary has already sold to the Koreans. This offers an alternative AESA radar option from Raytheon. The Raytheon advanced combat radar has some commonality with the AESA that is already on the RSAF’s F-15SG fleet. Singapore likes to be known as a ‘smart procurer,’ so it would be strange if it opted for the CAPES without evaluating alternatives.

Maritime surveillance is another live topic at the show, with plenty of requirements including Singapore’s own need to replace aging Fokker 50MPAs. The U.S. Navy and Boeing has brought a P-8 Poseidon and is also briefing details of its smaller maritime surveillance aircraft based on the Bombardier Challenger jet. Airbus Defence & Space has brought a Portuguese air force C-295-based maritime patrol aircraft to the show.