From French Rafales To US’ F-16s, Indonesia Goes Hunting For New Fighter Jets To Counter China

The renewal of tensions in the South China Sea has made a dramatic impact on the defense industry. With the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Malaysia upgrading their militaries to fight a potential war against China, Indonesia has finally got very active.

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It is being reported that the country is actively looking forward to replace its aging American F-5 aircraft in service with the Indonesian Air Force. Controversies have surfaced over the service’s choice for the Russian Su-35s and the threat of American sanctions over it.

According to reports, the country’s defense minister Prabowo Subianto has been visiting various countries to look for a good deal to replace the F-5s. Last month, he spent more than two weeks on a mission to solve a long-standing riddle of how Indonesia will replace its aging fighter jets.

Subianto, who flew to the U.S., Austria, France, and Turkey, was also bargain hunting as Indonesia is constrained by a limited state budget and because his defense ministry had its funding slashed when COVID-19 demanded tax revenue be spent elsewhere.


“What Prabowo is doing now is looking for the best option, the best deal,” said Muhamad Haripin, a defense researcher at the Centre for Political Studies at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, reported Nikkei Asia.

However, the country is facing another problem: COVID-19. The pandemic has greatly affected the economy and it put another dent in the road for the Indonesian Air Force’s future endeavors.

It is being said that apart from the fact that the Defense Ministry had the largest allocation of the budget this year, it would still require to spend all of its resources to purchase a sizeable number of fighter jets to complete its demand.

The Indonesian Air Force currently operates 23 Hawk light fighters as its mainstay force, along with about 33 F-16s. Some of these are old A/B airframes, nevertheless upgraded for extended service.

The service also operates the Russian Su-27s and Su-30s, and also some 15 EMB-314 light attack aircraft. The Hawks are poised to be replaced by the newly-acquired T-50 light attack jets.

However, the Russian jets are the only heavyweight twin-engine fighters in service, and the need for more such fighters is obvious. Indonesia was on the verge of finalizing a deal with Moscow for their new Su-35s, which was reportedly canceled due to the American pressure.

Jakarta has already had its share of suffering due to the sanctions imposed from 1999 to 2005 over alleged human rights violations in East Timor.

During his American visit, the Indonesian defense minister was also invited to the Pentagon; and is said that the move was to talk him out of the Russian deal. The deal with Moscow is appealing for Jakarta as half the payment is to be made in exports of palm oil, rubber, and other commodities.

This also provides Subianto with leverage in the U.S., where F-35s are expensive, as he tries to pry a more competitive price from Washington.

While the United States is trying hard to sell its F-16s and the minister’s larger plans for the F-35, reports have indicated that he might have a backup option of purchasing second-hand Austrian Eurofighter Typhoons.

However, this has also been debated in the country about the extensive maintenance costs which would dry up the coffers soon. The purchase would also need approval from the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Spain, which were involved in the jet’s development.

“Less likely options are France and Turkey, Subianto’s final ports of call. Reports from the defense minister’s previous trip to Paris, in January, said he expressed some interest in France’s Rafale fighter jets

Turkey, meanwhile, has its own fighter jet development program and is reportedly keen on inviting Muslim nations to participate in it,” the Nikkei report said.