Indonesia’s fighter aircraft acquisition plan seems to have narrowed down to two key competitors. The country’s Air Force Chief has announced that Indonesia will forgo the Russian Sukhoi Su-35 and instead opt for the US-made F-15EX Eagle II or the French-made Rafale, according to reports.
In recent years, multiple problems have hampered Indonesia’s air force modernization plan, which has been plagued by the lack of finance, political commitment, and an inefficient procurement program. However, the Air Force Chief’s statement has brought some clarity on the ongoing procurement plans.
During a press conference at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base near Jakarta, Air Chief Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo stated that Indonesia is looking for a 4.5-generation medium or heavyweight fighter.
Following negotiations with Russia, the country selected the Russian Su-35, a twin-engine, single-seat fighter but never finalized the deal for 11 aircraft. While Indonesia hasn’t said so, it’s possible that its hesitation to conclude the Su-35 purchase stems from a fear of triggering US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
“Regarding the Sukhoi Su-35, with a heavy heart, yes, we have abandoned that plan. We can’t just keep talking about it,” Air Chief Marshal Prasetyo said.
The air force chief did not provide any additional information regarding planned purchases, nor did Air Chief Marshal Prasetyo say whether Indonesia would purchase both F-15XS jets and Rafales. He said that the Air Force has recommended adding three squadrons of F-15EXs and or Rafales, with each squadron consisting of 12 to 24 planes.
If Indonesia opts for the F-15EX, deliveries of the multirole fighter could begin as soon as 2027, said the Air Chief Marshal. Indonesia’s current fleet of refurbished Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and Russian Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flankers can be supplemented by any new fighter.
Rafale For Indonesia?
Indonesia has been interested in Rafale for a long time. If the agreement is inked, Indonesia will be the first country in South East Asia to employ the Rafale, a twin-engine, delta-winged multi-role aircraft unveiled in the early 2000s.
The 4.5 generation Rafale has a maximum speed of nearly 2,200 kilometers per hour and a combat range of 1,850 kilometers. It is equipped with a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles as well as powerful avionics. It has the ability to perform air superiority, interdiction, ground assault, and anti-ship missions.
Earlier, it was reported that Indonesia signed a memorandum of intent to purchase 36 Dassault Rafale fighter planes in June.
Some experts had projected that Indonesia would abandon its Sukhoi acquisition plan in favor of France after Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom inked the AUKUS treaty in August, irking China.
Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto had voiced interest in purchasing 15 second-hand Eurofighter Typhoon fighters from the Austrian Air Force, however, Indonesia wants to have a new-generation aircraft that will outlast its predecessors.
After cracking a deal with the UAE, Rafale might attract Indonesia’s attention to purchase this sophisticated aircraft. When France’s foreign minister arrived in Jakarta last month, the country was anticipating a Rafale sale after Australia backed out of a submarine contract with France.
Additionally, the F-15EX has export-restricted systems including the advanced electronic warfare suite, which means Indonesia would not have access to those systems. The restrictions might also include sophisticated weapons.
The Rafale, on the other hand, will provide Indonesia with greater independence, with very negligible constraints on the export of advanced equipment and weaponry like the advanced Meteor air-to-air missile, the Exocet anti-ship missile, and the SCALP-EG cruise missile.
Is the F-15 EX an alternative for the F-35?
Defense Minister Prabowo had reportedly intended to procure Lockheed’s stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but was convinced to opt for the latest version of the F-15EX. The F-15 EX will be joining the USAF to bridge a vacuum caused by cuts to the F-22 Raptor program.
Asia Times reported that during a visit to Washington in October 2020, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper apparently told Prabowo that Indonesia would have to wait at least a decade for the F-35s due to a long waiting list of buyers, with Japan, South Korea, and Singapore being the only other Asian customers.
The upgraded air superiority fighter’s enhancements include more powerful twin engines, improved cockpit systems and sensors, data fusion capabilities, and the ability to carry 29,500 pounds of ordnance over 2,200 kilometers. \
Military experts pointed out that the F-35 is significantly costlier to maintain and repair than the F-15EX, which has a roughly 20,000-hour claimed lifespan and, according to some sources, might cost half as much to run as the F-35.
Furthermore, Jakarta has had an unpleasant experience of being reliant on US weapons. It has been subjected to an arms embargo by the US from 1999 to 2005 due to human rights violations in East Timor.
Indonesia’s military was left without replacement parts and munitions as a result of the prohibition. In addition, if Indonesia buys the F-15EX, it will be modeled on the Saudi and Qatari models, not the US version.
However, the possible scenario of the acquisition of both types of aircraft will be of geopolitical significance. The F-15EX could boost access to Washington and future acquisitions, while the Rafale provides the Indonesian Air Force access to French weapons without any restrictions and thus greater capability.