Indonesia should make a decision on a mid-life upgrade for its Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs in 2011 or 2012, but could also buy an additional batch of six Block 50/52 fighters.

If the upgrade takes place it will extend the service life of the Indonesian air force's current F-16s from 4,000 to 8,000 flight hours, and make them as capable as new-build models, says an industry source. An upgrade to all 10 aircraft is likely to cost around $150 million.

Modernisation work would take one year per aircraft, with the work to be conducted in Indonesia using kits provided by Lockheed, according to details revealed at the tri-service Indo Defence Expo & Forum in Jakarta. The air force also wants to acquire Falcon Star and Falcon Up upgrades for its current fighters.

In addition, Lockheed is pushing for Indonesia to purchase six more F-16s in the Block 50/52 configuration to give it a full squadron of 16 operational aircraft.

Another option, albeit less likely, would be for the nation to replace its current F-16s with ex-US Air National Guard Block 50/52 airframes. However, these would have a remaining service life of only 1,500h each and be less compatible with the US Air Force's support system for the type.

Indonesia is also in discussions with Lockheed about a possible service life extension programme for its C-130B/H transports, although the fighter upgrade has the higher priority.

 Indonesian C-130 - Australian DoD
© Australian Department of Defence

A decision to upgrade both types would be consistent with the nation's plans to modernise its military. In October, defence minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said about 150 trillion Indonesian rupiah ($16.8 billion) is needed over the next five years to support the process.

Indonesia's F-16s and C-130s are a legacy of the Cold War, when Washington considered the nation a key ally. That changed when a US arms embargo was imposed in 1992 after Indonesian soldiers killed East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators. The restrictions were tightened in 1999 after a brutal crackdown in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent East Timor's independence.

The embargo resulted in the grounding of most of the nation's F-16s until it was lifted in 2005 when Washington began to view Indonesia as a model of a majority-Muslim country that is also a secular democracy.

Relations have steadily improved, underlined by US President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia on 9-10 November.

Source: Flight International