By Carlo Muñoz - 12/12/13 02:58 PM EST
Singapore's defense chief said Thursday the Asian nation is in "no particular hurry" to join the Pentagon's international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter coalition, amid concerns over delays and cost increases on the futuristic fighter.
In a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Singapore's Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen said his country's armed forces were "seriously looking at the F-35" to replace their current fleet of F-16 fighters.
The Singaporean defense chief noted the F-35 is "quite an engineering marvel," a message Pentagon leaders sought to drive home by taking Hen to observe the fighter's testing and evaluation drills during his U.S. visit.
But Singapore "recognizes there are certain aspects to consider" before joining the Joint Strike Fighter coalition, particularly those related to cost and schedule on the program.
With a total cost estimate at more than $400 billion, the F-35 is the most expensive weapon development program in the history of the Pentagon.
Should Singapore opt to add the fighter jet into its arsenal, the country's forces would join the nine other foreign militaries that have decided to field the futuristic fighter jet.
The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark and Norway round out the international Joint Strike Fighter consortium.
South Korea and Israel are also weighing whether to include the F-35 in their arsenal.
For its part, South Korea is eyeing a 40-plane buy for 2014 with options to purchase another 20 fighter jets to be delivered to the country's armed forces by 2023, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in November.
The first jets from that 40-plane buy are expected to arrive in South Korea by 2018, Kim said.
While Kim did not explicitly name the F-35 as the country's pick, he did say the stealth capabilities being sought for Seoul's next-generation fighter fleet could only be found aboard the F-35
Singapore's addition to the fighter jet coalition could give the program a much-needed boost after a series of recent setbacks.
The fighters' recent failures, combined with the program's massive price tag, have prompted some inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill to call for reductions — or the outright cancellation — of the next-generation jet.
Looming fiscal pressures tied to $500 billion in expected cuts to Defense Department coffers under sequestration have only contributed to that criticism.