Indonesia completes order for 42 French Rafale fighter-jets amid regional tensions

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesia completes order for 42 French Rafale fighter-jets amid regional tensions French Air Force personnel walk past a Dassault Rafale multirole combat aircraft (left) and an Airbus A400M airlifter (right) on the Halim Perdanakusuma air base in Jakarta, Sept. 12, 2022.
[Adek Berry/AFP]

Indonesia has signed a contract to buy 18 more Rafale fighter-jets from France, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday, as Jakarta completed a 2022 order for 42 of these warplanes, in upgrading its air force fleet amid regional security challenges. 

One analyst criticized the deal, saying the advanced 4.5 generation Rafale, manufactured by French aviation giant Dassault, were inferior to the 4th generation American-made F-15 fighter-jets that Indonesia is also looking to buy.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto signed a contract on Monday for the last batch of 18 Rafale, the ministry said. The first delivery is expected in early 2026, it added.

“The arrival of the Rafale fighter-jets along with their weapons and support equipment is expected to significantly increase the strength and readiness of the Indonesian Air Force in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty in the air,” the ministry’s spokesman, Brig. Gen. Edwin Adrian Sumantha, said in a statement.

Indonesia has not disclosed the value of the deal, but back in 2022 the Reuters news agency had reported it was worth U.S. $8.1 billion, citing the French defense ministry.

Indonesia signed contracts for six Rafale in September 2022 and another 18 in August 2023, after scrapping a plan to buy Sukhoi SU-35 jets from Russia due to the threat of U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Indonesian Air Force currently operates a mix of fighter-jets made in various countries, including the United States, Russia and Britain. 

However, last June, the ministry said that some of those aircraft had reached or would soon reach their end-of-life phase, and needed to be replaced or upgraded. 

The purchase of the Rafale came amid rising tensions in the region, especially in the South China Sea, where China has been asserting its expansive claims over the disputed waters.

Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, but it has clashed with China over the fishing rights around the Natuna Islands, which lie within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone but in waters also claimed by China.

Indonesia’s neighbors, such as Singapore and Malaysia, have also bought advanced fighter-jets to upgrade their air forces.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly (second from left) and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto (second from right) gesture during the signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding between the two countries at the Defense Ministry in Jakarta, Feb. 10, 2022. [Adek Berry/AFP]

Muradi, a military analyst, said Indonesia should have opted for the U.S.-made F-35 or the Russian-made Sukhoi SU-57. He claimed that even the F-15 and F-16 were superior to the Rafale.

In 2022, the U.S. State Department approved the potential sale to Indonesia of the F-15 and related equipment and parts for up to $13.9 billion.

“In terms of maneuverability, speed, fuel, [the F-35] is more advanced than the Rafale,” Muradi, professor of political and security studies at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, told BenarNews.

Indonesia has embarked on a drive to upgrade and modernize its arsenal. Spending priorities include strengthening the domestic defense industry, the communication systems, intelligence, border security, as well as guided munitions and air-defense systems.

In November, the government increased its defense budget for the next year by 20%– to U.S. $25 billion from $20.7 billion – most of which will be used to procure major weapon systems from abroad.

Since being appointed defense minister in 2019, Prabowo has crisscrossed the globe, traveling to China, France, Russia, Turkey and the United States, seeking to acquire new military hardware as well as surveillance and territorial defense capabilities.

Muradi alleged that Prabowo, a former army general and presidential candidate, was using the contract as a political stunt ahead of the Feb. 14 polls.

“[T]his purchase is more about the election,” he said. Prabowo, 72, is currently leading in most opinion polls.

Prabowo’s election rivals – former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan and former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo – criticized him in a presidential debate on Sunday for attempting to acquire 12 second-hand Mirage 2000-5 jets from Qatar which, they argued, was a misguided policy.

Last week, a Prabowo spokesman told a TV talk show that the defense and finance ministries had decided to postpone the June 2023 decision to buy the Mirage jets, because of fiscal constraints.

An international security analyst at Al Azhar Indonesia University attributed the final Rafale contract to Dassault’s desire to secure the deal before next month’s election

The analyst, Raden Mokhamad Lutfhi, said the polls could lead to a possible change in the national leadership to one that is not aligned with the goals of the current administration.

“Dassault might have been worried that the election results would jeopardize the Rafale purchase contract,” he told BenarNews.


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