By Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia has abandoned a deal to purchase Sukhoi fighter-jets from Russia and has narrowed its acquisition choice to U.S.-made F-15s and French-made Rafales, the Indonesian air force chief said Wednesday.
Air Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo’s revelation followed recent visits to Jakarta by senior officials from France and Russia to boost ties and show their commitment to countries in the Indo-Pacific.
“Regarding the Sukhoi Su-35, with a heavy heart, yes, we have abandoned that plan. We can’t just keep talking about it,” Fadjar told reporters.
Fadjar said Indonesia was no longer interested in Russia’s Sukhois because of a protracted acquisition process, and a fear of U.S. sanctions, although Moscow’s envoy to Jakarta said Wednesday that the deal was not dead yet.
Russia and France, which have territories and a military presence in the Asia-Pacific, had both voiced concern about AUKUS, a newly signed, American-led regional defense pact. France, in particular, was furious about being shut out of the trilateral deal, through which a French deal to sell nuclear-powered submarine to Australia collapsed.
“The F-15 EX team has come to me and they told us if we signed an agreement today, we will receive the first units around 2027,” Fadjar said.
The Indonesian air force chief did not give details about its potential purchases or indicate whether its acquisitions would include both F-15XS warplanes and Rafales. He said his force had proposed adding a maximum of three squadrons – that is, 12 to 24 planes per squadron – of F-15EXs and/or Rafales.
Officials at the Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, have repeatedly refused to comment on the fate of the Sukhoi deal. On Wednesday, they could not be immediately reached to confirm the news announced by Fadjar.
Earlier this year, Indonesia said it planned to acquire eight of Boeing’s F-15EXs. The Indonesian Air Force currently has 33 F-16s. In June, Indonesia also signed a letter of intent to buy 36 Dassault Rafale fighter-jets.
So when the French foreign minister visited Jakarta last month, the country was hoping for a Rafale sale after Australia dumped a deal it had signed to purchase submarines from France.
After Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the AUKUS pact in August – a move that also infuriated China – some analysts predicted Indonesia might ditch its Sukhoi purchase plan in favor of France.
“Indonesia will likely settle on those fighter jets least likely to incense either China or the U.S., giving France’s Rafale bid an advantage over the others, unless a new contender appears on the horizon,” Indonesian analyst Johannes Nugroho wrote in an article published by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.
Worry about US sanctions?
Lyudmila Vorobieva, the Russian ambassador to Indonesia, said there was still a chance the Sukhoi deal would materialize.
“I have no new information about that. We still hope that Sukhoi deal will come through,” she told reporters. “It’s up to the Indonesian side to go on with it.”
In March, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto visited Russia but he did not say whether the Sukhoi deal came up during talks with Russian officials.
In 2018, Indonesia reached an agreement to acquire 11 Sukhoi Su-35s worth U.S. $1.14 billion.
Under the deal, Indonesia agreed to pay for the warplanes through a barter agreement in which Jakarta would exchange a $570 million (8.3 trillion rupiah) package of Indonesian commodities including crude palm oil, rubber and coffee.
But the purchase never happened amid concerns that Indonesia could face U.S. sanctions for buying weapons from Moscow.
A year earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump had signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions (CAATSA), which imposed sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea.
Under the legislation, countries that engage in “significant transactions” with North Korea, Iran, or Russia through the purchase of military equipment could be placed under U.S. sanctions.
According to a draft presidential decree that circulated in June 2021, the Indonesian government planned to spend U.S. $125 billion during the next three years to upgrade and modernize its military arsenal.
The government proposed spending $79.1 billion on military equipment, $13.4 billion in interest on 25-year loans from foreign sources, and $32.5 billion on contingencies and maintenance.
Many in the country criticized the plan to spend so much money on the military during a time of pandemic, when so many people had lost their jobs or seen their salaries slashed. The decree’s fate is not yet known.
Since taking office in 2019, Defense Minister Prabowo has visited weapons-producing countries including the U.S., Russia, China and France to secure defense deals.
In addition to plans to buy Rafale and F-15Xs, the Indonesian Defense Ministry earlier this year also unveiled plans to acquire 15 C-130J transport aircraft made by Lockheed Martin in the U.S., and two French Airbus 330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) planes.
Last month, Indonesia also ordered two Airbus A400M transport aircraft in an agreement signed on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow.