Indonesia Finally Chooses The French Rafale Fighter To Modernize Its Air Force (Updated)

After a complicated selection process mired by political intrigue, Jakarta has chosen its new fighter jet.

byThomas Newdick|
Indo-Pacific photo


Indonesia will buy France’s Dassault Rafale fighter jets, acquiring 42 of these jets as it overhauls its air force, which currently operates a mix of U.S. and Russian types. Jakarta’s decision to acquire the Rafale was a long time coming but continues an impressive run of export orders for the aircraft, with the United Arab Emirates having bought 80 examples last December. Croatia and Greece have also become Rafale customers in the last roughly 18 months, with eight nations now having chosen the French jet.

A contract for the 42 Rafales was signed today in Jakarta by Air Vice-Marshal Yusuf Jauhari, head of the Indonesian Defense Facilities Agency, and Eric Trappier, the chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation. Overseeing the signing was French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly and her Indonesian counterpart Prabowo Subianto.

As well as 42 of the “latest generation” Rafales, the Indonesian Air Force will receive aircrew training, logistical support at “several” airbases, and a training center with two full-mission simulators.

Dassault also says the deal includes significant industrial offsets for the Indonesian industry, with the potential to contribute at a local level to the aircraft themselves as well as their engines, avionics, and other technologies, via cooperation with Safran and Thales. Indonesian aerospace contractor PT DI will reportedly be responsible for maintenance, repair, and overhaul of the Rafales.

In a media release from Dassault, the chairman and CEO, Eric Trappier, provided the following statement:

“It is a great honor for Dassault Aviation to see the Rafale join the highly prestigious Indonesian Air Force, and I would like to thank the Indonesian authorities for the trust they have placed in us. This contract marks the start of a long-term partnership that will see Dassault Aviation rapidly step up its presence in the country. It also demonstrates the strong bond between Indonesia and France and reinforces the position of the world’s largest archipelago as a key power on the international stage. I am confident that the Rafale will meet the operational needs of the Indonesian Air Force, actively contributing to the defense and sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia.”

At this stage, there is little information about the structure of the Rafale acquisition program, its timeline, the allocation of production slots, and whether Indonesia will receive any second-hand Rafales from France, as was the case with Greece. However, the French newspaper La Tribune

reports that Indonesia has formally ordered six aircraft with a firm commitment to buy 36 more.

A former French Air Force Rafale B is prepared for transfer to Greece., Dassault Aviation

Since they are described by Dassault as the “latest generation” Rafales, the jets are likely to be delivered to Indonesia in the F4 standard, which is optimized for networked combat, with new satellite and intra-flight datalinks, as well as a communication server and software-defined radio. The F4 also features upgrades to the radar, electro-optical system, and helmet-mounted display. New weapons are also being integrated, including the forthcoming Mica NG air-to-air missile and the 2,200-pound version of the AASM modular air-to-ground weapon, although the particular weapons selected by Indonesia have not been confirmed.

As The War Zone

reported in the past, Indonesia has been looking at buying Rafales for some time, with France's Florence Parly stating in December 2020 that a deal was “very well advanced.” A letter of intent to acquire the jet was signed in June last year, leading to contract negotiations.

Until today, however, there seemed no guarantee that Indonesia would choose the French option. After all, its search for new fighters had produced reports about potential purchases of Sukhoi Su-35 Flankers from Russia and second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons from Austria. Lockheed Martin pitched its F-16 Block 72 to Indonesia while there were reports Jakarta was also interested in the same company’s F-35A stealth fighter. By December last year, Indonesia had apparently narrowed its choices down to the Rafale and the Boeing F-15EX.

An F-15EX prepares to departure Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for a test mission in October 2021. , U.S. Air Force/William R. Lewis

Indonesia’s path to buying the Rafale has been anything but straightforward and was made more complicated by apparent U.S. efforts to derail the country’s planned Su-35 buy.

Already operating earlier versions of the Flanker, Jakarta was first linked with a $1.1-billion deal for 11 examples of the single-seat, multirole Su-35 in July 2017. According to unnamed sources in Indonesia, the United States applied pressure on Jakarta to shelve the deal with Moscow, threatening to use the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries by Sanctions Act). Russian officials repeatedly stated that the deal was still alive, but by last December Indonesia had apparently given up entirely on buying the Russian fighter.

Sukhoi Su-35., UAC

As it stands, Indonesia’s new Rafales will be spread across two squadrons, reportedly those flying the two-seat Hawk Mk 109 and two-seat Hawk Mk 209. These light combat jets are based at Pekanbaru and Supadio, although there is no guarantee that the new French aircraft will be stationed there too.

An Indonesian Air Force Hawk Mk 209 light combat aircraft., YOUTUBE SCREENCAP

The Rafales will help modernize a diverse Indonesian Air Force fighter fleet. Its primary fighter equipment comprises around eight survivors from the 12 F-16A/B Block 15OCU fighters delivered from 1989, plus 23 upgraded F-16C/Ds.

A U.S. test pilot conducts a functional check flight in an Indonesian Air Force F-16C at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in 2017. The jet was the last of a batch of 24 F-16C/Ds to be delivered to Indonesia, one of which has since been lost., U.S. Air Force/Alex R. Lloyd

As well as this U.S.-supplied equipment, the air force also operates different versions of the Russian-made Flanker, consisting of five single-seat Su-27SKs and a pair of two-seat Su-30MKs, deliveries of which started in 2003, along with nine two-seat Su-30MK2s, the first of which touched down in the country in 2008.

Two Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18As escort Indonesian Air Force Su-27 and Su-30 Flankers during Exercise Pitch Black 2012., Commonwealth of Australia 

Looking further ahead, Indonesia had expected to acquire 50 examples of the KF-21 new-generation fighter that it’s developing jointly with South Korea. PT DI is an industry partner in KF-21 alongside Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI), with a 20 percent share of the project. In the past, however, Jakarta has failed to make payments to secure its stake in the program and its long-term commitment to the program is at least questionable. Regardless, with the KF-21 only expected to enter production sometime between 2026 and 2028, the Rafale will almost certainly be available quicker.

KF-21 prototypes take shape on the KAI production line., KF-21A/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

One unknown factor is the cost of the Rafales and how Indonesia is going to pay for them. In the past, the country has struggled with tight defense budgets and the Su-35 deal would have seen Russia receive half its payments in the form of exports of palm oil, rubber, and other commodities.

It will be interesting to see how France and Indonesia came to strike a deal that suits both parties but equally important for Jakarta is the political decision to choose Rafale. The jet is free from the constraints of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, while not buying the Su-35 avoids possible sanctions from Washington. Indonesia also has experience of a U.S. arms embargo imposed between 1999 and 2005, a result of human rights violations in East Timor, which held up F-16 deliveries.

For France too, the latest Rafale sale helps the country stake its claim in the strategically important Asia-Pacific region, especially after the disappointment of losing the Attack class submarine deal with Australia when this program collapsed in favor of the Australia-UK-U.S (AUKUS) strategic alliance.

For the Indonesian Air Force, the Rafale represents a new level of capability, helping reinforce Jakarta’s status as a major regional power. Occupying a strategic position at the southern end of the South China Sea, Indonesia is locked in a maritime dispute with China, including recent incidents in which Chinese fishing boats accompanied by Chinese Coast Guard vessels have entered Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Home to valuable fishing stocks as well as natural resources, this disputed region may well be patrolled in the future by Rafales as part of a new-look Indonesian Air Force.

The Rafale order comes alongside other deals on submarine development and armament production, also announced today. The first of these includes a commitment from Jakarta to buy two French-made Scorpène class submarines, which will be built in Indonesia.

All in all, the situation as regards China seems to be driving something of a defense spending spree in Indonesia, and French fighter jets and submarines may well be followed by additional measures to secure Jakarta’s maritime areas of interest in particular  

Update, 2.30 pm PST: Just hours after the official announcement of the Rafale deal, it was announced that the U.S. State Department had approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to Indonesia of F-15ID aircraft, a derivative of the F-15EX. The proposed package, with an estimated cost of $13.9 billion, would include the supply of up to 36 jets. Other equipment specified in the package includes AN/APG-82(v)1 Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, AN/ALQ-250 Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability Systems (EPAWSS), Advanced Display Core Processor (ADCP) II digital computers, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS), and Embedded Global Positioning Systems (GPS)/Inertial Navigation System (EGI) security devices. The jets would be outfitted with AN/AAQ-13 LANTIRN navigation pods and AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods. Also included ade MS-110 Recce Pods, AN/ASG-34 Infrared Search and Track International, and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensers.

At this stage, there is no firm contract for the sale of F-15s to Indonesia and any such deal would still need to be signed off by the U.S. government. However, the announcement is proof that Washington still harbors hopes of an F-15 sale to Jakarta and that a mixed fleet of F-15ID and Rafale jets remains a possibility for the Indonesian Air Force.  

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