To deal with the Goliath in its backyard, the archipelagic country of Indonesia dreams of buying F-35s; however, budget shortfalls hinder its plan to acquire 12 second-hand Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets from Qatar.
Indonesia had to bury its plans to procure the F-35 after the US found it “unsuitable” for operating the fifth-generation fighter jet. Now, the Indonesian government is even postponing its plans to purchase second-hand Mirage 2000-5 fighters.
“The government has delayed the purchase of Mirage jets because our fiscal capacity, for the time being, cannot support such purchases,” said Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, spokesperson for Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. He commented during a panel interview with broadcaster TV One.
Dahnil said during the interview that the Indonesian Air Force would now refurbish its existing Sukhoi and F-16 jets until the first Rafale fighter jets arrive in two years.
The administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inked a contract in January worth 733 million euros ($801 million) to buy 12 used Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft, a fighter jet manufactured by the French company Dassault Aviation.
The jets, which the Qatar Emiri Air Force first acquired in the late 1990s, were bought through Excalibur International, a branch of the Czech defense firm Czechoslovak Group, which was serving as an agent for the transaction.
The fighter jets are reported to have been used sparingly by Qatar since they were bought some three decades ago. In the mid-2000s, the Qatari government started scouting for foreign buyers. Bulgaria is said to have shown interest in the fleet, but the attempts to sell it to Pakistan and India were futile.
The Indonesian government decided to finance the procurement by raising loans from foreign resources, a move that was questioned by the Indonesian parliamentarians. The fact that the aircraft is no longer in production and can create problems in sourcing spare parts was an added difficulty.
The government, however, defended the move, saying it would tide the air force over until 42 Dassault Rafale fighters arrived. Indonesia signed the purchase agreement in February 2022, and the first aircraft was scheduled to arrive by January 2025. Indonesia failed to secure a foreign loan despite a government guarantee.
Indonesia’s Quest For Modern Air Force
As reported by the EurAsian Times earlier, the Indonesian Air Force, even though one of the “poorest,” has embarked on a modernization drive. Indonesia could tilt the strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific. It’s the largest archipelagic state in the world and sits at the heart of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The ambitious plans include acquiring an array of fighter jets ranging from F-15EX, Rafale, Su-30MK2, and KF-21.
Indonesia inked an agreement in August 2023 to purchase 12 new drones from Turkish Aerospace under a deal of US $300 million. It was followed by another contract to purchase 24 F-15 EX fighter jets from Boeing and 24 Black Hawk transport helicopters from Lockheed Martin.
As part of its strategy to diversify its fleet from Western countries, Indonesia took initial steps to finalize a deal to procure 11 Su-35 Flanker-Es from Russia. The deal hit a major roadblock as it was subjected to the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
In 2020, Indonesia also made moves to acquire 15 Typhoon Tranche 1 jets from Austria. Later, it decided against the procurement. After exploring many options, the Southeast Asian country zeroed in on the F-15 EX in 2023. Before this, in 2022, it became the second Asian country after India to seal the deal for 42 Rafale jets.
Indonesia Being Wooed By US & China
Indonesia is a major player in the geopolitical struggle between Beijing and Washington for influence in Asia. It is a resource-rich country with a rapidly expanding trillion-dollar economy and a sizable population that is situated across the southern edge of the South China Sea.
It is strategically located— with its 17,000 islands straddling a crucial sea route spanning thousands of miles. This makes the country important for defense as both China and the US prepare for a potential confrontation over Taiwan.
Indonesia has traditionally refrained from aligning itself with one power – the US or China. Jakarta decided to opt for the latest F-15s from the US to push back against China in the Natuna Islands on the edge of the South China Sea.
The archipelagic country is serious about modernizing its forces and is putting its resources in the same direction. In 2023, Indonesia allocated $8.8 billion for defense, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.9% from 2019 to 2023, according to GlobalData’s analysis titled “Indonesia Defense Market 2023-2028.”
With an estimated CAGR of 2.2% throughout the forecast period, this upward trajectory is predicted to continue, with a goal of a defense budget of $9.7 billion by 2028.
Its air force has a wishlist of 180 additional aircraft under the minimum essential force requirement. They include tactical airlifters, heavy-lift helicopters, and advanced reconnaissance aircraft. Its navy will be acquiring a submarine fleet and frigates. Negotiations are also ongoing with India to purchase BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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