An Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) jet fighter crashed in a residential area in Riau province on 15 June as the pilot was about to land after his routine drill. The aircraft was one of 16 Hawk 209s in service, and was manufactured by British Aerospace, which first introduced the aircraft in 1986 and stopped production in 2002. A preliminary investigation by the authorities reportedly found that the fighter jet had lost power as it was approaching a runway on Rusmin Nuryadin Air Base. The crash took place just nine days after an Indonesian Army Mi-17 helicopter crashed in Kendal, Central Java.
Commenting soon after the crash in Riau, Muradi Clark, chairman of Padjadjaran University’s School of Security and Political Studies, told the Jakarta Globe: ‘This aircraft shouldn’t have been allowed to fly today’, adding that the accident should push the Indonesian Government to modernise the capabilities of the TNI-AU. Willy Aditya, from the House of Representatives defence commission, has also urged Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto to audit the military’s equipment to establish whether all or some of it is actually in a suitable condition for use.
The push to modernise Indonesia’s defence capabilities is not a new development. Previous plans to modernise the defence sector were established through the “Minimal Essential Force” (MEF) notion, which featured several goals laid out during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Key elements of the MEF include upgrading the Indonesian naval fleet to a five-fleet “green-water navy” consisting of 274 ships and twelve diesel-electric submarines, major upgrades in air combat capability with the addition of ten fighter squadrons and the development of an indigenous defence industry, as well as the revamping of defence research facilities.
Progress so far to upgrade the TNI-AU’s inventory has been slow. In late 2017, it was reported that Indonesia finally signed an agreement that was several years in the making to buy eleven Russian Sukhoi Su-35 multi-role fighter jets. Today, however, the jets still have not been delivered and it looks like Indonesia has backed out of the offer, possibly due pressure from the United States.
It now looks like Indonesia is weighing up its options of purchasing the Su-35s against buying F-16s from the US. Indonesia’s current F-16s are already undergoing service at Lockheed to extend their service life, and buying more F-16s will have the added benefit of easier integration. The Su-35s, on the other hand, could make it difficult to integrate the aircraft with its mostly Western fighters to conduct network-centric operations. That issue could be avoided if Indonesia could implement Western avionics into the Russian aircraft. While Russia has not allowed that in the past, it could be more open to the prospect if it means that the sale will finally go through. Rosoboronexport, Russia’s sole arms exporter, has previously stated that ‘Russia can supply Indonesia with the latest Su-35 multipurpose fighters, adapting them as much as possible to the needs of the customer. We are sure that this is the best choice for increasing the combat effectiveness of the Indonesian Air Force.’ If Indonesia is able to integrate Western avionics into the Su-35s (something that is by no means a certainty), it could further open up the possibility for Indonesia to pursue both offers, appeasing both the US and Russia while avoiding reliance on one supplier.