For years, Indonesia’s Air Force (TNI-AU) has been trying to achieve a fighter force that fufills its operational requirements. The force has an overall motto of “no area without air cover,” but to cover such a widespread archipelago, the country will need at least three new squadrons of combat aircraft, according to the TNI-AU’s own calculations.
Part of the requirement has been filled by 24 used Lockheed Martin F-16s provided by the U.S. to Jakarta as Excess Defense Articles (EDA). These aircraft now supplement a fleet of six Northrop F-5Es that are still in service, plus five Sukhoi Su-27SKs and 11 Su-30MKs, plus 21 BAE Hawk 200 attack aircraft.
The leadership of the TNI-AU has previously aimed for a fighter fleet divided equally between F-16s, which would all be upgraded to a near-common configuration, and additional Su-27/30s. However, in recent times:
- Russia’s Rosoboronexport has proposed an arms package deal that includes 11 Su-35S aircraft configured similarly to those that have already been delivered to the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). But it has been reported that the “Su-35s” for Indonesia would be fitted with previous-generation engines and other avionics as found on the earlier Su-27/30-era models. Also, there is concern that the Russian financing of the aircraft would saddle Indonesia with a crippling debt burden.
- Saab Aerospace is offering a variant of the JAS-39C/D Gripen. These might be new-builds, or former Swedish air force aircraft. But they would include modernization options and a package of technology transfer projects, as well.
- Indonesia has also been involved in the South Korean KF-X stealth fighter. In 2016 the two countries signed an agreement whereby Indonesia would share 20 percent of the development cost, and in return. have some influence over the design, and participation by engineers from state-owned aerospace company PTDI in the South Korean program. The goal was to develop a 4.5 generation fighter that would enter service around 2025 with both the Korean and Indonesian air forces. But budgetary complications subsequently forced Indonesia to reconsider its participation. In October 2017, South Korean officials were trying to restructure the program to keep Indonesia involved.
The Shenyang FC-31 fighter is a dark horse candidate. The Chinese media describes it as a premier fighter with a stealthy radar cross section, which can be sold for a “reasonable price.” Chinese industry officials have said that the latest 2.0 prototype configuration addresses many of the shortcomings in the original design.
There are some indications that Indonesia is finding it more attractive to secure technology transfer projects with China than with other nations. Chinese industry is building the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, a 142-km project designed to shorten the travel time between the two cities from three hours to just 40 minutes.
But a key problem with the FC-31 at present is that the Russian-made Klimov/Isotov RD-93 engine that powered the original prototype developed insufficient thrust. Now with the latest prototype some three tonnes heavier, the question about what engine would allow this aircraft to achieve its true performance potential looms even larger.