When tensions between Indonesia and China peaked last December, some analysts remarked that Jakarta has been relatively muted in its response to Beijing’s aggression. However, Jakarta’s new military procurement seems to suggest otherwise.
Indonesia has made significant strides towards improving its airpower. While it signed a massive agreement with France for multi-role Rafale fighter jets, the US State Department, approved the sale of its F-15ID.
According to France’s defense ministry, Indonesia has placed an order for 42 Rafale fighter jets for $8.1 billion as part of a series of deals that also include submarine development and ammunition, making Jakarta the region’s largest buyer of French weapons.
Shortly after this, the Pentagon said that the US State Department had cleared the potential sale of F-15ID aircraft and related equipment to Indonesia in a deal valued up to $13.9 billion. The aircraft is a variant of the F-15EX fighter jet.
For a long time, the Indonesian government has been trying to modernize its aging warplanes including the US-made F-16s and Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets procured from Russia.
Just hours after confirming deal for #Rafale, #Indonesia has been approved to buy a variant of @BoeingDefense's Advanced Eagle, the F-15ID. A $13.9 billion package includes 36 aircraft, engines, pods, but no weapons. https://t.co/6AmpryoG7c pic.twitter.com/gPiuYikQaG
— Tony Osborne (@Rotorfocus) February 10, 2022
Indonesia’s Air Force chief indicated in December 2021 that the government will opt for the US-made F-15EX Eagle II or the French-made Rafale over the Russian Sukhoi Su-35.
While Jakarta has not said why it made the decision, it could be related to concerns about being subjected to American sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.
The dispute between China and Indonesia is related to the waters around the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. The areas north of Natuna Island are within Jakarta’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is recognized by the UNCLOS (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) as Indonesian waters, where the government can conduct resource exploitation.
During a months-long conflict in the South China Sea in early 2021, China had asked Indonesia to not explore oil and natural gas in contested maritime areas. However, fresh tensions were visible in late 2021 when Jakarta started work with international corporations to explore the EEZ for resources.
China’s claim over 80 percent of the South China Sea including waters around Natuna caused a rift, which would have potentially emboldened Jakarta to make a swift deal. A powerful fleet of 4.5-gen Rafale fighters would allow Indonesia to maintain an effective deterrence against China’s PLA Air Force.
Additionally, Indonesia’s geo-strategic location makes it a very significant state in the overall Indo-Pacific strategy that aims to counter Chinese expansion in the region.
French Rafales for Air Superiority
The agreement for Rafale comes as Paris, which sees itself as a global maritime power, tries to strengthen geopolitical connections in the Indo-Pacific following the AUKUS pact, a new strategic alliance between the US, the UK, and Australia last year.
According to France’s Minister of Armed Forces, Florence Parly, Indonesia will become the second country in the Indo-Pacific area, after India, to rely on the Dassault Aviation jet.
“We’re planning to acquire 42 Rafale,” said Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto as he met with Parly.
— Dassault Aviation (@Dassault_OnAir) February 10, 2022
“Our strategic partnership will benefit from the deepening of our defense relations,” said Parly.
The first phase of the contract, consisting of six Rafale jets, will be completed in the coming months and the remaining 36 will arrive later this year or next year, he added.
Dassault Aviation said the agreement was the beginning of a long-term cooperation that would allow it to expand its presence in Indonesia quickly. The news of the arrangement boosted the company’s stock by almost 4 percent.
In addition to the fighter jets, Indonesia has also signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on submarine research, which is expected to result in an order for two Scorpene vessels from the Naval Group, according to the French defense ministry.
The arrangement will make Indonesia, which is presently ranked second behind Singapore, France’s largest military client in Southeast Asia.
The Rafale is a French twin-jet combat aircraft that can execute a variety of short and long-range missions, including air dominance and air defense, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes, and nuclear deterrence.
The arsenal of the Rafale fighter includes Mica, Magic, Sidewinder, ASRAAM, and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, Apache, AS30L, ALARM, HARM, Maverick, and PGM100 air-to-ground missiles, and Exocet / AM39, Penguin 3, and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The Thales Spectra electronic warfare system, which includes solid-state transmitters, a DAL laser warning receiver, missile warning, detecting systems, and jammers, is also installed on the Rafale.
American F-15IDs approved
Apart from the Rafales, Indonesia could soon be equipped with one of America’s best dogfighters, the F-15ID. It is a derivative of the F-15EX aircraft.
According to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Boeing is the main contractor for the F-15 planes. The package will include 36 jets, spare engines, radars, night vision goggles training, and technical support.
According to claims in the media, Indonesia planned to buy more than 70 planes from France and the US.
.@StateDept authorizes a proposed Foreign Military Sale #FMS to #Indonesia for their purchase of up to 36 F-15ID fighter aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of up to $13.9 billion. #FMSUpdate – https://t.co/eWfWJgsQ4P pic.twitter.com/aMVOTDpmXR
— Political-Military Affairs, US Dept of State (@StateDeptPM) February 10, 2022
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency informed Congress of the potential sale on February 10. However, despite the State Department’s permission, the release did not imply that a contract had been signed or that discussions have come to an end.
The fighter aircraft is outfitted with new electronic warfare (EW) system, enhanced cockpit systems, current sensors, and radars, as well as the most up-to-date mission systems and software. It has open mission systems (OMS) architecture with advanced battle management systems (ABMS), which allows for quick integration of the latest aircraft technology and ensures the platform’s relevance for decades.
The aircraft is equipped with fly-by-wire flight controls as well as the APG-82(V)1 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which will provide improved multi-target tracking and precision engagement capabilities.
The F-15EX Strike Eagle jet is powered by two F110-GE-129 engines, each of which produces 29,000lb of torque. The aircraft has a top speed of Mach 2.5, making it the fastest fighter jet in the world. It has a 1,200nm range, allowing it to hit deep targets.