Indonesia’s negotiations over the purchase of US-made fighter jets were “at an advanced stage,” the country’s defense minister said 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.
“Negotiations on the F-15 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 it will now be up to the government to decide in the end,” he said.
Austin expressed support for Indonesia’s efforts to modernize its military, saying the jets would supplement Indonesia’s fleet of F-16 fighters. The Indonesian Air Force has 33 F-16s.
“We certainly support the minister’s efforts to further 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 Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said earlier that Indonesia had asked to buy 36 F-15s.
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 technologies, according to a statement from Indonesia’s defense ministry. .
China’s defense ministry said the two ministers agreed to resume joint exercises suspended during the COVID-19 epidemic.
After meeting with Austin, Prabowo praised Indonesia’s friendly ties with China and the United States.
“I would like to emphasize that Indonesia always takes the position of maintaining the best relations with all nations, especially with all major powers,” he said. “I have stated openly many times that we regard China as a friendly country.”
All misunderstandings, disagreements and territorial issues will be resolved with “dialogue, a friendly attitude and with an amicable relationship,” Prabowo said.
Still, “Indonesia will defend its sovereignty, it will defend our independence,” he said.
While Indonesia is not a territorial claimant in the South China Sea, its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps Beijing’s claims. Chinese fishing boats and Coast Guard vessels have entered Indonesia’s EEZ, sparking diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
China has demanded that Indonesia stop drilling for oil and gas, claiming in an unprecedented diplomatic note last year that these activities took place in the waters of the South China Sea, an Indonesian lawmaker said in December 2021.
Race against the clock
Khairul Fahmi, a security analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies, said Indonesia was “racing against time” to win the F-15 deal as the US bid could soon expire.
“It seems that the Ministry of Finance has yet to give the green light for the realization of the takeover plan with the help of a foreign loan,” Khairul told BenarNews.
The defense and finance ministries may 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 Indonesia, said a stronger Indonesia would contribute to regional stability.
“Because Indonesia is the backbone of the region and ASEAN. This region has faced 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 joint production and assembly of French Scorpene submarines.
In December 2021, the commander of the Indonesian Air Force, Air Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo, announced that Jakarta had abandoned a deal to buy Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jets and instead set its sights on US- and French-made fighters.
Such purchases are in line with a pledge by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to modernize 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 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 criticized the plan to spend billions on the military during the pandemic, when people had lost their jobs or seen their salaries fall. The status of the decision is unknown.
Since becoming defense minister in 2019, Prabowo has visited arms-producing countries including the US, Russia, China and France to strike defense deals.
The ministry announced plans last year to purchase 15 C-130J transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin in the US and two French Airbus 330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft.
In addition, Indonesia ordered two Airbus A400M transport aircraft in an agreement signed on the sidelines of the 2021 Dubai Airshow.