Indonesia delays purchase of used fighter jets, citing fiscal constraints

The announcement came ahead of the third election debate, and as the camps of presidential contenders criticize the country’s increase in defense spending since frontrunner Prabowo Subianto became defense minister.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


January 5, 2024

JAKARTA – The government has postponed a plan to purchase 12 Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets from Qatar because of budget limitations, the Defense Ministry has said.

Defense Ministry spokesperson Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak made the comments in a panel interview on the TV One television network on Monday.

“The government, in this case the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry, has delayed the purchase of the Mirage jets because our fiscal capacity, for the time being, cannot support such a purchase,” Dahnil said, adding that the military would order retrofits for its existing Sukhoi and F-16 planes instead.

Dahnil did not respond to The Jakarta Post’s request for further comment, while Finance Ministry director general for budget Isa Rachmatarwata referred the question to Dahnil’s office.

The announcement came ahead of the third election debate, slated for Sunday night, and as the camps of presidential contenders Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan criticize the country’s increase in defense spending since frontrunner Prabowo Subianto became defense minister.

In June of last year, the Defense Ministry announced that it had signed a deal in January, worth some 733 million euros (US$801.68 million), for the used Mirage jets with Excalibur International, a unit of Czech defense company Czechoslovak Group (CSG). The company was acting as an agent for the sale, and the jets were set to be delivered within 24 months of the signing.

The plan was criticized by some lawmakers and military analysts who considered the jets too old to be worth the price. But Prabowo defended the deal, saying it was a stop-gap measure ahead of the arrival of brand-new Rafale jets from France expected in 2026.

On Thursday, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Tubagus Hasanuddin, who sits on House of Representatives Commission I overseeing defense and intelligence, told the Post, “We had asked the minister to reconsider the purchase from the get-go. What is so urgent that we have to buy used, old jets?”

“We need to keep tabs on any planned procurement by the Defense Ministry, so it’s good that the issue surfaced [ahead of the third debate] so the public is aware,” said Tubagus, whose party is backing Ganjar in the presidential race.

Indonesia has long been seeking to replace its aging air fleet, which mainly consists of United States-made F-5 Tiger jets, British-made Hawk 109/209 jets and Russian Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 jets.

And since Prabowo became defense minister in 2019, the government has been on a defense spending spree.

The decision to delay the Mirage purchase came despite President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s approval of a 20 percent increase in defense spending this year to upgrade military hardware. The budget is now some US$25 billion.

This, too, has irked some civil groups, which say there was no need to raise the budget and suspect a political motive behind the decision, which came ahead of the 2024 general election. They also say such a large budget is prone to misuse.

While Jokowi himself has repeatedly championed military hardware modernization, at least twice last year, he called for prudence in weapons procurement.

In October of last year, he said military spending should be done wisely, as the state budget was limited.

Read also: Jokowi calls for prudence in weapons procurement

In July, he also warned the Defense Ministry, the National Police and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) against needless spending, especially in the procurement of weapons systems from overseas.

Responding to this instruction, the Defense Ministry said Prabowo had been prudent in his use of the defense budget and that all spending was aimed at strengthening national defenses, in particular overhauling the country’s aging air fleet.

PDI-P secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto asked on Tuesday why Prabowo preferred “to increase military spending to buy weapons systems [from foreign manufacturers] rather than build Indonesia’s own defense industry and amid increasing food prices”.

Anies’ running mate Muhaimin Iskandar, meanwhile, was quoted by as saying on Wednesday, “We’re not at war, so why should we buy so many war machines?” (yve/dag)

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