Indonesia’s negotiations for the purchase of US-made fighter jets were “at an advanced stage”, the country’s defense minister said on Monday after meeting with his US counterpart in Jakarta.
In February, the US State Department approved the potential sale of F-15ID aircraft and related equipment for up to $13.9 billion.
“F-15 negotiations are continuing and we are at an advanced stage,” Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto told reporters after meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“I think now it will be up to the government to finally decide,” he said.
Austin expressed support for Indonesia’s efforts to modernize its military, saying the planes would complement Indonesia’s fleet of F-16 fighters. The Indonesian Air Force has 33 F-16s.
“We certainly support the Minister’s efforts to continue to modernize [the military]”, Austin told reporters. “The United States is proud to partner with you as we work together to advance our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Pentagon’s Defense and Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) previously said Indonesia had requested the purchase 36F-15.
The meeting with Austin follows Prabowo’s visit to China on Friday where he met with Defense Minister Wei Fenghe to thank Beijing for its support during the pandemic and for providing new security technology, according to a statement released by the Indonesian Ministry of Defense.
China’s Defense Ministry said the two ministers agreed to resume joint exercises suspended during the COVID-19 outbreak.
After meeting Austin, Prabowo hailed Indonesia’s friendly ties with China and the United States.
“I like to point out that Indonesia always takes the position of trying to maintain the best relations with all nations, especially all major powers,” he said. “I have stated openly many times that we regard China as a friendly nation.”
Any misunderstandings, differences of opinion and territorial issues will be resolved through “dialogue, a friendly attitude and a friendly relationship”, Prabowo said.
Still, “Indonesia will defend its sovereignty, defend our independence,” he said.
Although Indonesia is not a territorial claimant in the South China Sea, its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Beijing’s claims. Chinese fishing boats and coastguard vessels have encroached on Indonesia’s EEZ, causing diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
China demanded that Indonesia stops drilling for oil and gas, alleging in an unprecedented diplomatic note last year that such activities were taking place in the waters of the South China Sea, an Indonesian lawmaker said in December 2021.
Race against time
Khairul Fahmi, a security analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies, said Indonesia was “racing against time” to secure the F-15 deal as the US bid could soon expire .
“It seems that the Ministry of Finance has not yet given the green light for the acquisition plan to be carried out using a foreign loan program,” Khairul told BenarNews.
The defense and finance ministries may still need more time to discuss the F-15 purchase plan, he said.
“I’m still optimistic that the United States will understand,” Khairul said.
Ramdhan Muhaimin, a defense analyst at Al Azhar University in Indonesia, said a stronger Indonesia would help regional stability.
“Because Indonesia is the backbone of the region and ASEAN. This region has seen divisions caused by great power rivalries,” Ramdhan told BenarNews.
In February, Indonesia signed an agreement to acquire six French Rafale fighter jets. It also signed a preliminary agreement for the co-production and assembly of the French Scorpene submarines.
In December 2021, the Commander of the Indonesian Air Force, Air Marshal Fadjar Prasetyoannounced that Jakarta had abandoned a deal to buy Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jets and instead set its sights on American- and French-made fighters.
These purchases are in line with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s commitment to modernizing the country’s military. According to a draft presidential decree circulated in June 2021, the Indonesian government planned to spend $125 billion over the next three years to upgrade and modernize its military arsenal.
The government has proposed spending $79.1 billion on military equipment, $13.4 billion in interest on 25-year loans from foreign sources, and $32.5 billion on contingencies and maintenance.
Many Indonesians have criticized plans to spend billions on the military during the pandemic as people have lost their jobs or seen their salaries cut. The status of the decree is not known.
Since becoming defense minister in 2019, Prabowo has traveled to arms-producing countries, including the United States, Russia, China and France, to hammer out defense deals.
Last year, the ministry announced its intention to acquire 15 C-130J transport planes manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the United States and two French Airbus 330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) planes.
Separately, Indonesia has ordered two Airbus A400M transport planes as part of an agreement signed on the sidelines of the Dubai Air Show in 2021.