The Indonesian air force plans to buy two squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 72 Viper fighters, while also following through on its plan to purchase a squadron of Russian’s Sukhoi Su-35s.
Jakarta plans to make the formal request for the aircraft on 1 January 2020, Marshal Yuyu Sutisna, air force chief of staff, said to local news agency Antara on 28 October.
"Insya Allah (God willing), we will buy two squadrons in the next strategic plan 2020 to 2024. We will purchase the newest type of Block 72 Viper,” he says. "The fact that several countries use them, and their number is large means they have very good reliability."
Indonesia already operates 33 examples of the F-16, Sutisna says.
Rendering of F-16 Block 70 aircraft for the Royal Bahraini Air Force
The Block 72 is the latest variant of the F-16. It comes with conformal fuel tanks and structural upgrades, which extend the life of the aircraft up to 12,000h – 50% more than previous production examples of the F-16, says Lockheed Martin.
The aircraft also comes with improved electronics, including an active electronically scanned array radar, a new avionics architecture, an advanced datalink, targeting pod and the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System.
Lockheed Martin believes its backlog of 30 orders for the F-16 could more than triple based on demand from Middle Eastern and Asian countries, the company said on its 22 October earnings call.
Despite plans to buy US-made aircaft, Indonesia will also buy Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35s fighters in the next five years, says Sutisna. In August 2017, Jakarta said it would buy 11 Su-35s for $1.14 billion; a cash and barter deal that would likely include a mix of local farm products such as palm oil and coffee.
However, Indonesia’s interest in buying Su-35 fighters looked weakened after the imposition of US sanctions on Russia in 2017, said Victor Kladov, director of international cooperation and regional policy for Rostec, the Russian-government owned holding company which controls Sukhoi’s parent company United Aircraft Corporation. He made his comments at the MAKS air show in August in Moscow.
“We feel like some nations are more cautious,” says Kladov. “For instance, yesterday I talked to the Indonesian chief of the air force and he mentioned CAATSA, the US law. From what he says, I understand they receive threats. They are dependent not just on Russian equipment, they are dependent on a large part of US-made equipment. If as a punishment measure, let’s say, American manufacturers stop supplying spares, stop supporting American-made equipment, then there will be a breach in security in national defence in Indonesia. So, they are very cautious.”
In addition to its 33 F-16s, the Indonesian air force operates five Su-27s and 11 Su-30MKs, according to Cirium’s fleet analyser.
Operating a mixed fleet of aircraft from Russia and the United States helps Indonesia diplomatically play the two countries off of each other, while hedging Jakarta’s reliance on any one supplier.
However, mixed fleets are more difficult to maintain because fewer aircraft share parts and service personnel. Mis-matched aircraft also do not come with the same radios and data-sharing networks making cooperation in flight more difficult.