Indonesia leans on the French Rafale rather than the American F-15
Once discovered standing in front of a family mirror posing as Charles de Gaulle, French-speaking Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto appears to have chosen France and its multipurpose jet fighter Dassault Rafale as the future backbone of the frontline air defense force. from Indonesia.
But less than a day after its Feb. 10 announcement that Indonesia would purchase an initial six-seat two-seater Rafale, as part of a possible order for 42 4.5-generation aircraft, the US State Department said broke a prolonged silence by endorsing the potential $13.9 billion. sale of the rival Boeing F-15ID.
The Rafale has the interior running because the $8.1 billion deal is much further along – and also because any F-15 sale will still have to be approved by the US Congress and may still come with additional possible restrictions on advanced avionics and weapon systems.
Coincidence or not, the F-15s have been in the final approval phase for two months. “The problem was not technology transfer,” said a source familiar with the talks. “There was never any talk of giving the F-15s to Indonesia. It’s going to happen.”
Indonesia will be the first country in East Asia to acquire the twin-engine delta-wing Rafale, already in service with the French Air Force and Navy, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India.
France has so far mainly supplied Indonesia with a variety of light armored vehicles and artillery pieces, with Jakarta seeking to diversify its suppliers – a lesson learned from the 15-year US military embargo in the 1990s and in the early 2000s.
Prabowo says the purchase is one of four deals he signed in Jakarta with French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly. The others relate to the purchase of two Scorpène submarines, the Thales Alenia military satellites, the production of land weapons and cooperation in terms of maintenance.
The US package includes 36 aircraft, including 87 spare engines, advanced avionics, training and technical support. But in either case, the modernization program hinges on the availability of funding at a time when Indonesia is still emerging from a pandemic-induced recession.
Various sources say Jakarta has pledged to provide much of the funding for the US$25 billion program, built around a Minimum Essential Force (MEF) master plan devised under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration. .
Analysts note that despite Prabowo’s ambitions to modernize the air force and navy, Indonesia’s $9.3 billion defense budget accounts for just 5% of overall government spending and 0, 7% of gross domestic product (GDP) – the second lowest in Southeast Asia.
Singapore is the region’s biggest military spender at $11.5 billion, or 3.2% of GDP, followed by Indonesia, Vietnam ($6.2 billion, or 2.3%) , Philippines ($4.3 billion, or 1.9%), Malaysia ($3.9 billion, or 1.1%), Thailand ($2.9 billion, or 1.5% ), Myanmar ($2.2 billion or 2.9%), Cambodia ($525 million or 2.4%) and Laos ($28 million or 0.2%).
Finance Ministry documents show that $3 billion of Indonesia’s defense budget for 2022 has been allocated to modernization projects; According to media reports, the initial French deal is worth $6.56 billion, of which $1.1 billion is for the purchase of planes.
The six Rafales are expected to be stationed at Iswahyudi Air Base in Madiun in Central Java, which is now home to a squadron of General Dynamics F-16 interceptors and South Korean KAI T-50 trainer aircraft.
In total, Indonesia’s frontline fleet includes 32 F-16s and 16 Russian Su-27 and Su-30 multirole jets, which are also based in Pekanbaru, Sumatra and Makassar, South Sulawesi, both in reach of its politically sensitive northern maritime. frontier.
But analysts say the current number of air defense fighters is insufficient for an archipelago the size of Indonesia, which crosses three time zones, stretches more than 5,200 kilometers from east to west and straddles oceans. Pacific and Indian.
The F-15ID is the latest variant of the F-15EX Eagle II which was previously sold to Saudi Arabia as the F-15SA and Qatar as the F-15Q and features a range of upgrades capabilities over previous models of an aircraft that first entered service with the US Air Force in 1976.
Although there are few details, the announcement indicates that the F-15ID comes with the same AN/ALQ-250 Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) now installed on the US Air Force’s F-15EX Strength, suggesting it will be the most advanced. model if Congress gives the green light.
The South Korean option
Another option is South Korea’s partially stealthy KF-21 Boramae, an F-15 look-alike multi-role fighter that Indonesia has had a minority stake in development since 2010, although it has recently fallen behind schedule. in payments. The first prototype was rolled out last year and the aircraft will enter full-scale production in 2026.
The F-15 deal was announced as Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Australia to show the United States’ determination not to give free rein to China in the Western Pacific and in particular in the Sea of southern China, which Beijing considers its own backyard. .
“The proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by enhancing the security of an important regional partner that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Asia-Pacific,” the department said. of State in a press release. declaration.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is due to make a Covid-delayed visit to Jakarta in early March, during which he is expected to discuss the F-15 deal, as well as Indonesia’s surprise plan to buy 14 Bell helicopters 412EPX, instead of the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk.
Defense experts slammed Indonesia for shelling out $500m for eight $500m Boeing Apache AH-64 gunships when the Blackhawk would have made more sense as a utility workhorse with a proven track record in army relief and natural disaster operations.
Many sophisticated Apaches are grounded, fueling the argument that they and the equally controversial purchase of 103 Leopard 2 main battle tanks were intended more to match neighbors than fulfill an identifiable strategic role.
A Blackhawk sale is still believed to be on the table, with some sources describing the Bell acquisition as a stopgap measure, adding to an Indonesian military inventory that already includes 52 older Model 412s, better known as name of UH-1 Huey.
The $21 million Blackhawk costs twice the price of the latest Bell and also has twice the lift capacity. But observers note that the army only recently took delivery of nine Bell 412EPXs, which are well suited to high-altitude conditions in Papua’s central mountain range.
The $275 million price tag ruled out any imminent purchase of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, but in the meantime Indonesia plans to ramp up production of the propeller-driven CN-235 to fill the gap in the ocean monitoring.
Built by state aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara, the CN-235 has an operational range of 3,885 kilometers, significantly longer than the jet-powered Poseidon, and is now in service with 28 air forces around the world.
The Indonesian Air Force and Navy operate 13 variants of the CN-235MPA, whose loitering ability compares favorably with the venerable P-3C Orion four-engine patrol aircraft that can stay on duty for more than 12 hours.