Indonesia eyes additional military transport capability

Singapore
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Indonesia is looking to buy new and refurbished transports, with the country's defence minister saying that it is in talks with the USA about a loan to finance the purchase of one Lockheed Martin C-130H.

"We are still assessing and discussing the possibility," Juwono Sudarsono told the Jakarta Post newspaper. Any deal would depend on an agreement with Lockheed over the price and on securing a loan from Washington, he says.

Industry sources say Indonesia has been in touch with several suppliers about buying aircraft, but is hampered by a shortage of funds. However, a budget could be available after this month's presidential elections, they add.

Airlift and transport capabilities are important for the military in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago without proper airfields in many parts of the country. Its air force has about 18 C-130B/H and L-100 transports and 12 Fokker F27s and F28s, many of which have been in service for more than 40 years.

However, the service's maintenance capabilities, coupled with Indonesia's poor air safety record and a US arms embargo that has made it impossible to get spare parts, means that is prone to accidents.

In May, an air force C-130H ploughed through a neighbourhood in Magetan, East Java, while trying to land. There were 99 deaths in that incident, and while the accident report has not been released, Sudarsono says the C-130 fleet will be grounded if mechanical problems were the cause. A C-130B skidded on a runway in Wamena, West Papua the same month, after its rear wheels fell off upon landing.

An air force F27 also crashed in Bandung, West Java in April, killing all 24 people on board, and there have been several fatal accidents involving military helicopters over the last few months.

Jakarta has tried to rectify the problem since Washington lifted its embargo four years ago. Last year, Singapore-based ST Aerospace won a contract to upgrade four of its air force's grounded C-130Bs. The Indonesian parliament also approved an increase in the defence budget in June, although this was less than the defence ministry had requested.