Indonesian legislators and military observers on Wednesday urged the government to not go ahead with a proposal to buy Austria’s fleet of 15 Eurofighter Typhoon jets after Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto expressed interest in acquiring the warplanes.
Prabowo wrote in a letter to his Austrian counterpart, Klaudia Tanner, that his proposal to purchase the jets could lead to “a mutual benefit for our two countries.”
House member Tubagus Hasanuddin was among those who called on the government to not pursue the plan.
“It has been the commitment of the government and the House of Representatives not to purchase used military equipment,” said Hasanuddin who serves on the House commission on defense.
“If this proposal is true, then the Ministry of Defense must stop it,” he told BenarNews.
In his July 10 letter to Tanner, Prabowo said he was aware of the controversy in Austria surrounding its purchase of the Typhoons, adding his proposal could offer “a promising change for both sides,” according to a copy seen by BenarNews.
Austria purchased the jets in 2003 in the country’s largest post-World War II arms deal, but later claimed that it paid too much to manufacturer Airbus because payments to middlemen were priced into the contract. Airbus, meanwhile, denied the allegation.
According to its purchase contract, Austria cannot resell aircraft without the approval of Airbus, aviation observer Georg Mader told Austrian news agency APA.
Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported Monday that the country’s Defense Ministry confirmed it received Prabowo’s letter and that Tanner was reviewing it to determine whether the Indonesian offer was serious.
Meanwhile, another member of Indonesian House defense commission, Effendi Simbolon, said he was not aware of the proposal, adding the Defense Ministry had not submitted its strategic plans to the commission.
“We have never been informed directly by Defense Minister Prabowo. We only found out about it from the media and other sources,” Effendi said.
“There was never any discussion on this in our meetings,” he said.
Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Djoko Purwanto declined to comment when contacted by BenarNews.
Bartering for jets
In 2018, Indonesia signed a deal valued at U.S. $1.14 billion (16.7 trillion rupiah) with Russia to buy 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets.
Under the agreement, Indonesia agreed to pay through a barter agreement in which Jakarta would exchange a $570 million (8.3 trillion rupiah) package of Indonesian commodities including crude palm oil, rubber and coffee.
Indonesia previously purchased 16 Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 jets from Russia between 2003 and 2012.
The Indonesian Air Force also has 33 U.S.-made F-16s.
News website Defense World reported in mid-March that Indonesia and Russia continued negotiations on the barter portion of the 2018 deal which was complicated because of the fluctuating prices of some of the commodities.
Earlier this month, Lyudmila Vorobieva, Russian ambassador to Jakarta, said the deal was on track and played down the possibility of U.S. sanctions complicating it.
Indonesian officials have expressed concern that the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act signed by President Donald Trump in August 2017 could potentially hinder the purchase.
The act targets Russia, Iran and North Korea for sanctions and stipulates that the U.S. can impose sanctions on governments or entities that purchase weapons or military hardware and parts from Russia.
In March, Deputy Defense Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono told BenarNews that the Indonesian government was considering buying F-35 fighter jets from the United States instead, citing unspecified obstacles in going ahead with the Russian deal.
In addition, the U.S. State Department announced earlier this month that it had approved a possible sale of eight MV-22 Osprey aircraft and related equipment to Indonesia valued at $2 billion (29.2 trillion rupiah). The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the aircraft could improve Indonesia’s humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities.
In December 2019, Indonesia and South Korea agreed on a joint project to develop a next-generation fighter jet called the KAI KF-X, in which Jakarta would shoulder 20 percent of the $7.36 billion (107.8 trillion rupiah) development cost.
Eurofighter proposal questioned
Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, a University of Indonesia defense analyst, questioned whether the Air Force needed the Eurofighter Typhons.
“All of sudden they want to buy Eurofighter jets. Have they talked to the Air Force chief?" Connie told BenarNews.
She said acquiring the Typhoons could complicate the Air Force’s logistical and operational systems and prove to be financially burdensome.
“The defense minister can no longer act like a Kopassus commander,” she said, referring to Prabowo’s past role as the chief of the Army’s special forces (Kopassus).
Earlier this month, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo urged Prabowo to refrain from importing military hardware and to prioritize using local products instead to shore up the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati urged the Defense Ministry to spend its budget wisely and efficiently.
“Is it important to strengthen our defense equipment? Yes, it’s important,” she said. “Still, things have to be taken into account and of course we must prevent corruption.”
The Defense ministry’s budget is 127.35 trillion rupiah ($8.7 billion) for 2020.