Singapore’s new maritime patrollers are likely to be fitted with a more robust anti-submarine warfare capability as Southeast Asia sees a proliferation of underwater forces. 

The aircraft, which will probably be introduced in the early 2020s, will have a longer range and a more comprehensive mission and weapons suite compared with Singapore’s current maritime patrollers, five highly modified Fokker 50s, Singaporean analyst Collin Koh says.

The Fokker 50 is a reliable but old design and clearly insufficient in light of the evolving maritime challenges, especially the proliferation of submarines in the region, says Koh, a research fellow and maritime security analyst at Nanyang Technological University.

The decision to replace the Fokker 50s ought to be made soon, Koh says.

“This procurement would be a chiefly Republic of Singapore Air Force one, because aerial maritime surveillance is flown by the air force, while the navy only provides the mission specialists,” Koh says. The Fokker 50s formally form a joint force.

“Considering that the current upcoming major air force procurement would be [Lockheed MartinF-35s, which would still take some time to materialize, I suspect there’ll be an opening for funding to get new maritime patroller aircraft,” Koh says.

Singapore operates four submarines with four replacements on order, while neighboring Malaysia has two and Indonesia three with another three on order. Vietnam’s six submarines, meanwhile, constitute the largest fleet in the region.

Thailand ordered three submarines from China in February, while Myanmar and the Philippines are mulling plans to buy two each. Indonesia, which has a stated requirement for 12 submarines, is reportedly considering buying more.

“So besides a more advanced surface search radar, limited EW and EO/FLIR outfit, which is obligatory, I believe the new MPA should also have a more robust ASW capability in the form of not just a magnetic anomaly detector but a sonobuoy dispenser and acoustic signal processor. Therefore, the MPA would be larger, with [a] bigger payload, which would give the option of an internal weapons bay,” Koh says.

This makes the Boeing P-8 the most viable option, says Koh, adding interoperability with the U.S. Navy and potentially Australia and India as plus points. The only factor against buying the P-8 would be cost.

Koh says the Saab Swordfish and IAI G550 MPA would be cheaper alternatives, though the aircraft would be less capable than the P-8.

“I would be inclined to think the SAF sees the G550 MPA as a more attractive option because there are clear commonalities with the existing IAI G550 CAEW planes the air force is operating, thus easing logistics and MRO requirements. I believe the Israelis will heavily leverage on this point,” Koh says.