Indonesia: F-16 Squadron in Pekanbaru in 2014

DG (JAN 2012) Indonesia - Pekanbaru, Riau

Digital Globe Imagery from January 2012 shows Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base.

Indonesia will strengthen its air defense capability with F-16s donated by the United States despite recently purchasing six new Su-30MK2 from Russia.

Indonesian Air ForceA new squadron of F-16 fighter jets at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base in Pekanbaru, Riau province, is expected to start operating in one year, Air Force Chief of Staff Marshal B Putu Dunia was quoted as saying.

Colonel Andyawan, Commander of the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base, has said the presence of the squadron is meant to deter unmanned aerial vehicles from entering Indonesian air space, a  prospect  with which many Asian nations are currently concerned.

According to media reports, the new squadron will be made up of 24 upgraded F-16C/D fighters the US donated to strengthen bilateral ties. (The deal was confirmed during President Obama’s Asia-Pacific tour last year, which focused on bolstering US interests in the region). However, Jakarta will still pay up to USD 750 million to upgrade the aircraft including their electronics and engines.

(Credit: Capt.Agung "Sharky" Sasongkojati)

(Credit: Capt.Agung “Sharky” Sasongkojati)

Such upgrades will support Indonesia’s defensive capabilities as its existing 10 F-16A/B currently in service have yet to be upgraded to a more modern standard, limiting their use to daytime operation. (Existing F-16s were ordered under the Peace Bima-Sena Foreign Military Sales Program in the late 1980s.) [1]

As a result, the fighters — made available under the US Excess Defense Articles program — will be used to further interoperability with US forces operating in the region, or so the US DoD hopes.

However, it should be noted that there has been some political opposition to the procurement of US defense equipment, chalked up to what Indonesian officials see as a potential dependency on the US government (USG).

Recent parliamentary resistance to acquiring US military equipment have drudged up past resentment in the relationship. In 1992, the USG criticized Indonesia’s human rights record regarding their treatment of pro-independence demonstrators in East Timor. At the time, the Indonesian government cancelled a previous F-16 order in retaliation to the USG’s decision to limit access to the IMET program for Indonesia’s armed forces, a decision which pushed the country toward Russia to meet its fighter requirement. [2]

Although Indonesia has changed considerably since the 1990s, US relations with the  archipelago  country still remain low. (This may also explain why in January 2012, satellite imagery still showed no construction activity to support the new F-16s at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base.) [3]

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As a further indicator of the health of the relationship, the Indonesian Defense Minister announced in September 2010 a plan to modernize the Indonesian air force with the procurement of 180 Sukhoi fighters over the next 15-20 years. [4]

While the number quoted by the defense minister seems high due to Indonesia’s financial position, Russia has been ready to supply export credit to purchase additional aircraft through Vnesheconombank, Russia’s economic development bank.

In December 2012, Russia granted Indonesia a USD 400 million export credit for the purchase of aircraft over the next seven years.

DG (27FEB13) AN-124 at Makassar

Digital Globe imagery from 27FEB13 shows an AN-124 at Hasanuddin airbase

So far however, Russia’s Rosobornexport has only delivered 6 Su-30MK2 to the Hasanuddin airbase in Makassar, South Sulawesi,  fulfilling a contract signed in December 2011. Open source imagery even managed to capture the AN-124 Condor on the parking apron delivering the first batch in late February 2013.

The six aircraft were reportedly delivered with spare parts in four phases with the last delivery reported on 04SEP13, almost nine months ahead of schedule. [5]

Despite the acquisition of Russian aircraft, the US may still have opportunities to engage Indonesia for closer military relations via proxy, i.e. assuming the US can bridge the gap with India. Last year, the press reported that India agreed to train and support the Indonesian Air Force in operating its fleet of Russian Sukhoi fighter jets.

While there’s been very little news since the announcement, Indonesia’s shift from China to India for pilot training and aircraft maintenance may be good news for US diplomatic efforts. In 2007, India had embarked on a similar deal with Malaysia to train its pilots and weapon operators on their Su-30 MKMs. [5]

Bottom Line

The official announcement of a new F-16 squadron suggests that the US has inched closer to Indonesia despite the recent sale of 6 Su-30MK2.

Notes:

[1] Although 12 were originally ordered, in August 2005, Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono stated publicly that only four F-16s were airworthy.

[2] The US and the EU implemented an arms embargo between 1992 – 2005.

[3]  The air base currently supports the IAF’s Hawk Mk 109s & 209s.

[4] In May 2013, it was reported that the Indonesian Air Force temporarily detained a US military aircraft, a Dornier 328, at Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport, stating that it had “no permits to fly over Indonesia’s air corridors.” Of course this event may pale in comparison to the recent Snowden revelations.

[5] The aircraft form a part of 11th Squadron, which now has six single-seater Su-27 SKMs and 10 Su-30 MK2s. The latest six Su-30MK2s are reportedly double-seater fighters.

[6] The Indonesian air force will also obtain a simulator in 2014 to train its pilots. Previously, Indonesian Sukhoi pilots underwent simulator training in China.

 

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