By Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesia’s government on Wednesday defended its decision to buy 12 second-hand Mirage fighter jets from Qatar, saying it needed them to boost air force capabilities amid a shortage of combat-ready aircraft.
Some lawmakers and analysts said the deal was costly and risky, after the Defense Ministry confirmed it had signed a U.S. $734.5 million contract for the French-made Mirage 2000-5 planes. Qatar bought them from France in 1997, and they are the oldest of their kind.
“The ministry decided to buy the aircraft from Qatar as a quick and effective solution to fill the gap in its air force capabilities,” the ministry said in a statement sent to BenarNews. It said many of the military’s older fighter jets were reaching the end of their service life.
The deal, financed by foreign loans, is intended to fill the gap until Indonesia receives new Rafale jets it has signed a contract to buy from the same French manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, the ministry said. Three of six Rafale aircraft are scheduled to arrive in January 2026.
The Mirage delivery is expected to take place 24 months after the contract becomes effective, and the aircraft will be stationed at an air base in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, the Defense Ministry said.
The Mirage 2000-5 is a multirole fighter jet that can perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It has a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 and a range of about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles), defense officials said.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, however, has said in the past that Indonesia should not buy second-hand weapons systems.
Sukamta, a member of a parliamentary defense affairs commission, said he feared the used jets would be too costly to maintain.
“Getting the spare parts could be difficult. The original manufacturer might have various reasons to withhold the parts we need,” he told BenarNews.
“We have opposed buying such second-hand fighter jets from the start, considering the requirements and upkeep expenses,” said Sukamta, who goes by one name.
The ministry, though, said the contract includes not only the aircraft, but also engines, spare parts, support services, training for pilots and technicians, infrastructure and weaponry.
The Indonesian Air Force currently operates a mix of fighter jets from various countries, such as the U.S-made Northrop F-5 Tiger and F-16, the Russian-made Sukhoi SU-27/30, and the British-made Hawk 100/200.
However, the ministry said some of these aircraft had reached or would soon reach their end-of-life phase, and needed to be replaced or upgraded. The ministry said it had plans to upgrade and overhaul some of these aircraft, but this would also reduce their availability for operations.
‘Concerns about performance and cost’
The purchase of the used Mirage aircraft might be the government’s last-ditch attempt to meet the ambitious goal of achieving the minimum essential force (MEF) by 2024 – the end of Jokowi’s second and final term as president – said Khairul Fahmi, co-founder the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS).
“The ministry is determined to proceed with the purchase of these old planes, hoping that they will serve as a temporary measure until new aircraft are delivered,” Khairul told BenarNews.
“Besides the concerns about performance and cost, the limited budget will also hamper the upkeep, repair and operational readiness of both Mirage and other aircraft.”
The MEF is a concept that defines the minimum level of defense capabilities that Indonesia, an archipelago and Southeast Asia’s largest nation, needs to protect its sovereignty and interests.
Indonesia has embarked on a drive to upgrade and modernize its arsenal. Spending priorities include strengthening the domestic defense industry, the communication system, intelligence, border security, as well as guided munitions and air-defense systems.
Only about 65% of the MEF has been achieved so far, and the air force is in the lowest position among the three branches of the Indonesian military, Khairul of ISESS said, citing data from the Defense Ministry.
“This is partly due to the slowdown and stagnation in the second strategic plan (2015-2019) and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have affected the budget and procurement of defense equipment,” he said.