Gusty Da Costa
The Indonesian Air Force’s acquisition of fighter jets from France and the United States underscores its major modernization strides and strengthened interoperability with partner nations. Experts say the advances bolster Indonesia’s efforts to protect its territory amid a military buildup by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is conducting unlawful activities in the South China Sea that threaten regional stability.
“Indonesia is a vast archipelago with vast air and maritime territories. To maintain its territorial sovereignty, Indonesia needs a strong and modern Air Force,” Beni Sukadis, an analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, told FORUM.
The acquisition of 24 F-16 C/D Block 52 fighters from the U.S. between 2012 and 2017 was key to launching the modernization, he said. “The F-16 is an advanced fighter aircraft that has various advantages, including long-range combat capability, high maneuverability and powerful electronic capabilities.”
In February 2022, Indonesia’s Air Force signed an $8.1 billion deal for 42 French-made Rafale aircraft, Sukadis said. “The signing of the Rafale contract also provides training to pilots and technicians of Rafale aircraft so that they can maintain optimal aircraft performance,” he said. “This means that this procurement includes a human resource development package in pilot crew training and aircraft maintenance.”
The Indonesian Air Force in August 2023 announced the forthcoming acquisition of 24 twin-engine Boeing F-15EX aircraft from the U.S.
Interoperability factored into the purchases, Sukadis said. Variants of the F-15 and F-16 fighters are used by partner forces including Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the U.S. The Dassault Rafale, meanwhile, also is used by India, while Bangladesh and Malaysia are considering acquiring the aircraft.
With the world’s sixth-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) at more than 6 million square kilometers, Indonesia prioritizes monitoring for violations of its maritime sovereignty, Sukadis said. It also is expanding the Air Force’s surveillance capabilities with deals for 13 ground-controlled interception radar systems from French company Thales, and a dozen surveillance and reconnaissance drones from Turkish Aerospace Industries.
Beijing’s military buildup, including new aircraft carriers, is helping drive Indonesia’s defense modernization, according to Nikolaus Loy, an international relations expert at UPN “Veteran” University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Jakarta faces threats to its territorial integrity and to natural resources within its EEZ, including fisheries and fossil fuels.
“We know that it is close to the South China Sea, and it is very possible that there will be an expansion of [Beijing’s] claims to the Indonesian exclusive economic zone and that has already begun to happen,” Loy told FORUM.
With the PRC similarly threatening the sovereignty of other Indo-Pacific nations, the Indonesian Air Force modernization also enhances Jakarta’s role in regional security, Alman Helvas Ali, a military analyst with Jakarta-based risk consultancy Semar Sentinel, told FORUM.
“Although Indonesia is not involved in military pacts, either bilaterally or multilaterally, Indonesia must be taken into account for its contribution in maintaining regional stability,” he said.
Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor based in Jakarta, Indonesia.