During U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis’ official visit to Indonesia on January 23, news reports have emerged of Jakarta defining a new multi-role fighter requirement for the Indonesian Air Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara: TNI-AU). This could amount to a multi-billion-dollar bid.
According to Reuters, U.S. officials had revealed that Indonesia requested pricing information for 48 new Lockheed Martin F-16s, a deal that could potentially reach $4.5 billion U.S. (alluding to a possible purchase of new-built F-16Vs instead of additional surplus F-16s).
However, Indonesian officials reportedly stated that plans were tentative, with the TNI-AU’s requirement still being defined. The TNI-AU operates 24 F-16C/D Block-25s. These were surplus aircraft acquired from the U.S. under the Excess Defence Articles (EDA) program for $750 million.
In November 2017, Indonesia announced that it will sign a contract for 11 Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters from Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) for $1.14 billion. Russia will procure $570 million in goods from Indonesia under the deal, along with another $400 million in offsets to Indonesia.
The mainstay of the TNI-AU’s fighter fleet comprises of Su-27, Su-30 and F-16 Block-25s. It is unclear if this new fighter purchase would supplant any of the aforementioned TNI-AU fighters.
Besides new combat aircraft, the TNI-AU is also eager to improve its logistics and auxiliary capabilities. In March 2017, Indonesia signed a letter-of-intent (LOI) to procure potentially four A400M Atlas transport aircraft from Airbus Defence & Space (Airbus DS).
The news of a prospective fighter program/sale comes amid Washington’s efforts to reinforce relations in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. Mattis’ visit is particularly important today considering that in 2017, Indonesia decided to rename its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) north of the Natuna Islands as the ‘North Natuna Sea’ (it was previously part of the South China Sea). During his visit, Mattis acknowledged Jakarta’s move, stating, “We can help maintain maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea, the North Natuna Sea. This is something that we look forward to doing.”