Fighter talk [ID18D2]

07 November 2018

The touchdown of Indonesia's first two of 11 Sukhoi Su-35S 'Flanker-Es', or 'Super Flankers', on Indonesian soil in August next year will mark the latest stage in the 20-year plan to 2024, designed to develop and improve the strength of the Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara (TNI AU), the air force branch of the Indonesian National Armed Forces. Together with the recent delivery of 24 Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons, the still on-track joint development with South Korea of the KF-X/IF-X, and other types on the present inventory, the Russian super-manoeuvrable aircraft will form part of eight squadrons of 16 fighter jets each, as quoted by Air Force Chief of Staff, air chief marshal Yuyu Sutisna, published in Antara News.

The Su-35 is being acquired to replace the air force's ageing Northrop F-5E Tiger fleet and was chosen in preference to the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, F-16 and Saab Gripen, most likely to consolidate its familiarity with the Su-27SK and Su-30MK2. A purchase contract was signed on 14 February 2018. The first deliveries were initially due in August, but that date has been pushed back into next year. The delay is not due, as reported in some media, to the threat of US sanctions being applied to Indonesia under the recently implemented anti-Russian CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) that could have threatened the spares supply for Indonesia's US-built aircraft, but rather to delays arising from the complex part-barter agreement under which the aircraft are being acquired, at least according to Wahid Supriyadi, Indonesia's ambassador in Moscow.

To be based at Iswahyudi, the Su-35 single-seat 4.5-generation heavy fighter is powered by two AL-37FU/117S thrust-vectoring turbofan engines rated at 142kN, capable of a speed of Mach 2.26 at altitude, with a ceiling of 60,000ft and a range of 3,400km. Its Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis-E passive phased-array radar can reportedly detect and track up to 30 air targets, simultaneously engaging up to eight. It is believed to be a match for all Western fighters, with the exception of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The Su-35s are being acquired through a barter arrangement in exchange for palm oil, coffee and other agricultural goods, a deal that could not be matched by Western competitors.

The barter element accounts for around half of the contract's value.

Hard cash, however, will be needed to progress the KF-X/IF-X mid-level stealthy fighter jet with South Korea, in which Indonesia has a 20 per cent stake. This has been a sticking point up to now, with Indonesia said to have missed the payment deadlines in the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018, brought about by a worrying economic downward spiral that has seen the rupiah plummet to a near all-time low.

As the biggest economy in the ASEAN area, these are major concerns, but economic forecasts from the International Monetary Fund and the OECD remain positive. Nevertheless, Indonesia has indicated it is seeking to renegotiate the financial arrangement with South Korea to ease the pressure on the state budget, and to review the technological benefits to Indonesia through the programme. South Korea has indicated its willingness to renegotiate Indonesia's contributions, but requires that a new agreement be completed within 12 months. Contributions to development costs, production expenses, technology transfers, intellectual property rights and marketing are all up for re-evaluation, but the Ministry of Defence stressed that the programme remains on track and confirmed that it had been making some payments.

Indonesia and South Korea agreed in 2014 to develop a fighter jet, and under a finance agreement signed in 2015, Indonesia committed to contribute 20 per cent of the development costs, which are estimated at about USD8 billion.

The South Korean government will cover 60 per cent, while the remaining 20 per cent will be provided by prime contractor Korea Aerospace Industries. In return for its investment, Indonesia has joint developer status and has integrated engineers from the state-owned aerospace company, PT Dirgantara Indonesia into the project in South Korea. It is envisaged to produce six prototypes and a first flight in 2022, with initial operating capability in 2025. Indonesia is expected to receive at least 50 aircraft.

The advanced multirole 4.5-generation fighter is powered by two General Electric F414-KI afterburning turbofans with a thrust of 90kN plus, giving it a top speed of Mach 1.97. The engines will be assembled, installed and integrated by Hanwha Techwin. The 10 hardpoints will carry air-to-air missiles such as the MBDA Meteor, Diehl IRIS-T, AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder. Its avionics include an active electronically scanned array radar by Hanwha Systems, infrared search and track, electro-optical targeting system and radio frequency jammer. The Indonesian IF-X will have greater range, boom refuelling system and a different datalink to allow communications with its fleet of Russian Su-27/30/35 'Flankers'.

On 28 February 2018, TNI AU marked the final delivery of 24 Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. The 19 single-seat F-16Cs and five F-16D two-seaters were gifted by the US from former US Air Force and Air National Guard aircraft that were surplus to requirements. The jets were upgraded from Block 25 to Block 52 at the USAF's Ogden Air Logistics Complex in Utah. Indonesia already operates 10 earlier F-16 models. The US generosity is part of its attempt to strengthen bilateral ties and protect Indonesian air space, with an eye on China's growing military capability and its territorial ambitions in the region.

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