21 Mei 2019
F-16C/D and C-130 Hercules of the TNI AU (photo : Megah)
To pacify Trump, Indonesia seeks American arms
Jakarta is weighing big-ticket US weapons purchases to rebalance trade relations and maintain privileged access to US markets.
Indonesia is quietly talking to the United States about the purchase of 32 new Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper jets and six C-130J cargo aircraft in what may partly be an effort to remove the country from any possible sanctions as the US-China trade war returns to a boil.
Well-placed Washington sources speculate that the Indonesians are seeking to protect their Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) access, as well as to ward off possible US congressional retaliation against friendly countries that have recently purchased Russian military hardware.
On the military front, it is still not clear whether Indonesia’s plans to buy 11 advanced Su-35 FlankerE multi-role fighters from Russia will run into the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which penalizes procurers of Russian military systems.
The air force has said it will have no option but to terminate the deal if US sanctions are enforced, but as a spokesman has noted: “We need to operate a combination of East-made and West-made fighters. Politics is uncertain, and we need balance because if we have problems with the West, we can use aircraft made in the East.”
F-16V Viper (image : Lockheed Martin)
Ironically, the Indonesian military only went shopping in Russia in the early 2000s because of a US arms embargo which began with the Dili, East Timor, churchyard massacre by Indonesian troops in 1991 and was only strengthened following East Timor’s bloody separation from Indonesia eight years later.
Although Indonesia already has a squadron of twin-engine Sukhoi Su-27/30 jets, the subsequent lifting of the embargo has seen the delivery in the last two years of 24 refurbished US-made F-16s and eight Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters worth an estimated $1.4 billion.
Indonesia’s intended purchases, including the $1.1 billion Su-35 deal, fit with an ambitious air force modernization plan, announced in June 2018, to bring its force level up to eight fighter squadrons and six refreshed transport squadrons by 2024.
It currently has six fighter squadrons spread across Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, with an inventory that includes 25 F-16C/Ds, 16 Su-27/30s and 24 British Aerospace BAE Hawk 200s.
Government sources say the C-130 workhorses are a higher priority than the costly, state-of-the-art Vipers because of the steady depletion of its current 18-strong fleet, invaluable in flying troops and relief supplies to remote parts of the archipelago.
C-130J Super Hercules (photo : Przemyslaw Burdzinski)
Apart from its normal transport role, the Super Hercules C-130 can also be quickly configured for prolonged maritime surveillance duties with belly-mounted radar and roll-on, roll-off sensor stations in place of cargo.
The Indonesians have yet to publicly announce their interest in the F-16V, which was first demonstrated at the Singapore Air Show in 2012 and only went into service with Taiwan’s Air Force this year.
Developed to inter-operate with Lockheed’s fifth-generation F-35 and F-22 fighters, the latest F-16 variant can be deployed against enemy air defenses and also in air-to-air, air-to-ground and deep interdiction and maritime missions.
US analysts advise Indonesia to continue conducting business as usual and say there is no need for Jakarta to make any major announcements on military procurements or highlight joint military exercises or other unilateral endeavors.
High-level US visits in the recent past by Pence and then Defense Secretary James Mattis went a long way, they say, to establishing Indonesia’s value to the US as a democracy of strategic importance. But whether that assessment extends to the mercurial and unpredictable Trump is a different matter.
See full article ATimes