An Indonesian Air Force fighter jet crashed on Sumatra Island during a training flight Monday morning, reigniting questions about whether the military properly maintains its aircraft following a series of accidents since 2015.
Monday’s crash in Riau province was the second in nine days that involved an Indonesian military aircraft. The British-made Hawk 209 was preparing to land when it crashed into two houses in Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, about two km (1.2 miles) from Rusmin Nuryadin Air Field, official said.
“The aircraft was badly damaged. It was a total loss,” Air Force spokesman Fajar Adriyanto said in a statement.
The pilot, 1st Lt. Apriyanto Ismail, ejected from the aircraft and was uninjured, Adriyanto said, adding there were no casualties on the ground because the houses were empty.
Air Chief Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo said he had ordered all Hawk 200-series jets grounded for the time being. The Indonesian military has acquired 32 of the aircraft since 1996 but it was not clear how many remain in service.
“We have suspended the operations [of the aircraft] pending an investigation, which is expected to last for two weeks,” Fadjar, who was appointed Air Force chief of staff last month, told reporters during a news conference broadcast by MetroTV.
Fadjar said the jet was airworthy and had flown without any issues a few days earlier.
He said the pilot had reported an engine problem followed by a warning light as the plane approached the runway.
“After that the engine lost power. Communication was still normal,” Fadjar said, adding that the fighter jet did not explode in mid-air.
The crash came more than a week after a Russian-made Mi-17 Army helicopter crashed and burst into flames in Central Java, killing five troops and injuring four others.
Last June, another Army Mi-17 helicopter crashed into a mountain while on a mission to distribute food in Papua province, killing 12 troops. Papuan separatist rebels claimed they shot down the chopper, whose wreckage was only found in February 2020. The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) declined to comment on the insurgents’ claim but have yet to issue a statement to explain what caused the Mi-17 to crash.
And in June 2015, in one of the deadliest crashes involving an Indonesian military aircraft, an Air Force Hercules C-130 smashed into buildings in the city of Medan, killing all 113 on board and at least three people on the ground. The next year, the government reported at least five crashes involving military aircraft that led to the deaths of more than 20 people.
House member seeks investigation
The latest crash led Willy Aditya, a House of Representatives (DPR) defense commission member, to urge the Ministry of Defense to order an independent investigation of military equipment.
“I think the DPR will approve increasing the defense equipment budget if a comprehensive audit has been carried out, including the results of investigations into a number of accidents,” he said in a statement.
The Defense Ministry was issued a 131 trillion rupiah (U.S. $9.25 billion) budget this year, the highest among government ministries and an increase of 21 trillion rupiah ($1.48 billion) from last year.
The Finance Ministry said 30 percent of the budget was to be used for purchasing and maintaining defense equipment. Defense ministry spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.
Khairul Fahmi, a researcher at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS), raised the possibility of poor maintenance contributing to the crashes, along with weather conditions and potential human error.
“The question most often raised by us is how maintenance is carried out,” Khairul told BenarNews. “Now we have to talk about how they maintain [the aircraft]. Has maintenance been carried out regularly and in a disciplined manner according to operational standards?”
Indonesia began its drive to modernize the military during the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the immediate predecessor of Joko “Jokowi” Widido.
In December 2019, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo agreed to a joint project to develop a next-generation fighter jet, even though Indonesia had failed to pay an installment to Seoul before the agreed to deadline three months earlier.
Under the agreement, Indonesia was to shoulder 20 percent of the development cost of the $7.36 billion KF-X project, but it failed to pay $255 million by the end of September, according to data from the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the state-funded South Korean news agency Yonhap said.
In 2018, Indonesia agreed to purchase 11 fighter jets from Russia, valued at $1.14 billion, while Russia agreed to buy Indonesian commodities valued at $570 million.
That deal has been up in the air over because of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in August 2017. The act could allow sanctions to be imposed on countries doing business with Russia.
Meanwhile last October, then-Indonesian Air Marshal Yuyu Sutisna announced a plan to acquire two squadrons of F-16 Block 72 Viper fighter jets from the United States. Indonesia to take delivery of the first batch of these warplanes later this year, the Jakarta Globe newspaper reported on Monday.