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April 1, 2024

Brunei sees the historic landing of USAF F-35s

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brunei fighter jets
— U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric Summers Jr.
April 1, 2024

On March 1, two F-35As from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska landed in Brunei’s Rimba Air Base, marking the first ever arrival of the fifth-generation fighters on the island nation's soil. This deployment is part of a broader effort to acquaint the Royal Brunei Air Force with the capabilities of the F-35 and bolster defense ties between Brunei and the United States. It also coincides with the official visit of the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Jedidiah P. Royal and Major General Mark Weber, Air National Guard Assistant to the Commander of Pacific Air Forces who were on a diplomatic mission to Cambodia, Thailand, and Brunei to strengthen US defense cooperation with ASEAN nations. 

The landing of the F-35s serves as a brief strategic engagement, which seems to have leveragedthe US aircrew planned trip to Singapore for F-35 demonstrations. The same crew later flew to Singapore to conduct bilateral training with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, demonstratingcapabilities and operational dynamics of the F-35As which Singapore plans to procure. Brunei, which also contends with overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, has significantly increased its defense budget for this year, allocating 796.3 million Brunei dollars (approx. 594 million USD) to military expenditures, which is a 31.6 percent surge from the previous year's allocation. 

The formal military cooperation between Brunei and the United States dates back to 1994, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on military defense cooperation. This agreement has resulted in joint exercises, training programs, and various other forms of military collaboration between the two nations. The two countries also conducted their latest joint maritime security exercise, Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Brunei, in September last year. 

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