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Singapore to acquire European surface-to-air missile system


Singapore is acquiring an advanced European air defence system as a replacement for its ageing US-made Hawk surface-to-air batteries, the defence chief said Monday.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile System, manufactured by European defence firm MBDA, will allow the city-state to counter multiple threats from fighter jets, helicopters, drones and precision guided missiles.

"The ASTER-30's capabilities are many times more potent than our I-HAWK ground-based air defence system," he told parliament.

He did not reveal the cost of the system or when Singapore will make the acquisition.

The ASTER-30 system, used by countries like France and Italy, is expected to provide the city-state with an anti-missile and anti-aircraft range of up to 70 kilometres (43.5 miles), Singapore's defence ministry said.

The current US-made I-Hawk system has a maximum effective range of 40 kilometres.

The tiny island-republic -- which is about 42 kilometres in length and 23 kilometres in breadth -- also has a shorter range "SPYDER" ground-based air defence system with a range of 15 kilometres.

Ng also said that Singapore is looking to upgrade its F-16 fighter jet fleet to "modernise their avionics and extend their lifespan".

He said the defence ministry was still evaluating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a possible replacement for its older warplanes.

Singapore also has a fleet of F-15 fighter jets.

Singapore has the largest defence budget in Southeast Asia, thanks to public funds generated by its phenomenal economic growth.

It has set aside Sg$12.34 billion ($9.79 billion) for defence in 2013, up from Sg$11.83 billion in 2012, according to official data.

Surrounded by far larger neighbours, Singapore has pursued a robust defence strategy since its acrimonious split from Malaysia in 1965.

All able-bodied Singaporean men are required to devote two years of full-time military service upon turning 18, providing additional manpower on top of the estimated 20,000 armed forces regulars.