Indonesia’s recent shopping spree to acquire Western fighter jets, notably the US-made F-15 fighter aircraft, seems to have dented its interest in South Korea’s KF-21 stealth fighter jet.
The KF-21 is a joint effort between South Korea and Indonesia to create a next-generation supersonic combat aircraft, incorporating South Korea’s domestically developed technology.
However, Indonesia, on its part, has not been able to fulfill its financial obligations for the project, citing financial constraints. Yet, over the past year, Jakarta has made significant announcements regarding acquiring Western fighter jets.
In February 2022, Indonesia first made headlines by placing an order for 42 Rafale fighter jets, marking the second Asian nation, following India, to acquire these state-of-the-art French fighter aircraft.
This agreement included the acquisition of the “latest generation” Rafale, which Dassault has positioned as a comprehensive “turnkey” solution for the Indonesian National Army Air Force, bringing substantial economic advantages to the country’s aviation industry.
Indonesia’s strategy for acquiring Rafale fighter jets follows a phased approach rather than an all-at-once purchase. The first batch of six Rafales had been ordered in September 2022.
On August 10, 2023, French company Dassault Aviation announced an agreement for Indonesia’s second phase of Rafale fighter aircraft. This phase encompassed the procurement of 18 additional Rafale jets, bringing the total number of ordered aircraft to 24.
But Indonesia’s interest goes beyond the cutting-edge French fighters and includes battle-proven but older French fighter aircraft like the Mirage 2000-5.
In response to the perceived heightened security concerns in the disputed South China Sea, the Indonesian Defense Ministry confirmed its purchase of 12 Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets from the Qatar Emiri Air Force in June this year, with the transaction amounting to US$792 million.
Furthermore, in August 2023, Indonesia solidified its commitment to procure Boeing-manufactured F-15 Eagle fighter jets by signing a memorandum of understanding to acquire 24 units of these US-made aircraft.
Indonesia’s F-15 jets will bear the designation F-15IDN and be based on the F-15EX model. Boeing promotes the F-15EX as the most advanced iteration of the F-15.
The aircraft has digital fly-by-wire flight controls, a new electronic warfare system, an all-glass digital cockpit, cutting-edge mission systems, and software capabilities.
Uncertainty Surrounding Indonesia’s Involvement In The KF-21 Fighter Project
While Jakarta embarked on these high-value procurement efforts, South Korean media reports disclosed Jakarta’s inability to meet financial obligations within the collaborative KF-21 fighter program.
In 2016, Indonesia agreed to cover approximately 1.3 trillion won (US$958 million), roughly 20% of the multi-billion-dollar project. Being a participant in the project, the Southeast Asian country was entitled to receive a prototype of the fighter jet and technical assistance to facilitate the local production of 48 units within Indonesia.
To date, Jakarta has paid 278.3 billion won, with the remaining 991.1 billion won now overdue. Earlier this year, Indonesia initially pledged to provide Korea with a payment schedule by the end of June, but it failed. Later, it committed to submitting a plan by the end of October, yet, as of the recent update, this commitment remains unfulfilled.
On November 1, it came to light that Indonesia failed to notify the Korean government regarding its intention to cover its portion of the project’s expenses, thereby jeopardizing their partnership.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), which serves as Seoul’s arms procurement agency, confirmed that Indonesia did not fulfill its commitment to submit a payment plan by the end of October, as previously agreed upon.
Therefore, the persisting payment delays have raised concerns in South Korea, leading to the belief that Indonesia’s dedication to the project may be diminishing and that reaching a successful conclusion is becoming increasingly uncertain.
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has even mentioned that it would not face financial challenges without Indonesia’s contributions. A company official has said the existence of a “plan B” and is currently evaluating whether and when to implement it.
Besides that, several nations, particularly Poland and the United Arab Emirates, have reportedly expressed their interest in the KF-21 project, exploring the potential for collaboration with South Korea and potentially taking over Indonesia’s role in the program.
Nonetheless, according to multiple defense analysts, Jakarta’s acquisition of Western fighter aircraft is driven by the necessity to obtain fighter jets that can be readily deployed in combat, as opposed to the KF-21, which is still in its developmental phase.