Indonesia Drops Russian Fighter Acquisition Plans

The Indonesian National Defense-Air Force (TNI-AU) has given up its quest to acquire Russian combat aircraft. Instead, the service will shift its focus to two Western alternatives, the Boeing F-15EX Eagle II and the French Dassault Rafale.

The TNI-AU continues to plan and execute a long-term strategy aimed at modernizing its fighter fleet by upgrading existing assets and expanding capabilities, an effort that dates back to phase one of the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) program undertaken from 2009 through 2014.

Under the TNI-AU MEF guidebook, the Air Force is to field 180 fighter jets by 2024, but it remains nowhere near this figure and that goal is highly unlikely to be met. Instead, the Defense Ministry’s short-term, more reachable (but still unlikely) goal is to acquire 100 new fighters, allowing the TNI-AU to operate a total of 170 fighters by around 2024-2025.

Because the service already operates Russian-designed and -produced fighters, one of the aims of the Air Force has been the acquisition of modern Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-Es. The Indonesian Air Force has operated a mixed Sukhoi fleet of Su-27s and Su-30s since 2003, when Indonesia turned to Russia for new combat aircraft in exchange for local palm oil and other commodities.

Yet despite an announcement back on February 14, 2018, of an agreement to procure the 11 Su-35s at a cost of $1.14 billion under a cash and commodity deal (items such as palm oil, coffee, tea and rubber were offered up by Indonesia), a firm contract proved elusive. This was largely due to Indonesian concerns about U.S. CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) legislation regarding defense and/or intelligence-related transactions with Russia.

Indonesia – which prefers to diversify its sources of defense supply – continued to hesitate in announcing that this prospective deal was dead, instead quietly allowing it to collapse. The termination of the procurement only became official when Air Chief Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo acknowledged during a press gathering on December 22 that it had been abandoned .

Instead Indonesia will now turn to filling out its fighter capacity through the acquisition of an existing French or American platform, while continuing to participate in the development of the Korean-led Korean Fighter Xperiment (KF-X) program, for which it has a 20 percent cost-sharing contribution in place. Indonesia intends to purchase 50 of these aircraft, or enough to equip three Indonesian TNI-AU fighter squadrons with 16-22 aircraft apiece.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is Forecast International’s director of military and defense markets. In this role, Dan oversees a team of analysts tasked with covering everything from budgeting to weapons systems to defense electronics and military aerospace. Additionally, for over 17 years Dan has, at various times, authored the International Military Markets reports for Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Dan's work has been cited in Defense News, Real Clear Defense, Asian Military Review, Al Jazeera, and Financial Express, among others, and he has also contributed commentary to The Diplomat, The National Interest and World Politics Review. He has been quoted in Arabian Business, the Financial Times, Flight International, The New York Times, Bloomberg and National Defense Magazine. In addition, Dan has made guest appearances on the online radio show Midrats and on The Media Line, as well as The Red Line Podcast, plus media appearances on France 24 and World Is One News (WION).

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