October 31, 2022
JAKARTA – The US$13.9 billion worth of purchase by the Indonesian Defense Ministry of the F-15 Eagle heavyweight fighters from the United States remains in negotiations, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has said.
Prabowo, who met with the US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin at the Pentagon defense complex earlier this month, told a press conference on Thursday that Indonesia is seeking to purchase the F-15EX with installment plans.
“We clearly asked that we must be able to buy in terms of paying in installments, we can’t do it all at once. The government always prioritizes economic development and so on,” Prabowo said.
“We have quite an advanced [progress] with [France regarding the purchase of] Rafale [jets] and we are still negotiating with the other party, the F-15. But of course, this will continue to be negotiated later and hinges on the terms of finance and what they offer us.”
Indonesia’s request for the US warplanes comes as Jakarta replaces an aging fleet — consisting mainly of American F-16s and Russian Sukhois — as concerns grow about rising US-China tensions in Asia.
The Pentagon announced in February that the US State Department has approved the potential sale of up to 36 F-15ID fighter jets and related equipment, including munitions and communications systems, to Indonesia in a deal valued at up to $13.9 billion.
The US State Department broke the prolonged silence a day after Prabowo announced signed agreements with France to purchase 42 Dassault Rafale fighter jets and two Scorpene-class submarines as Prabowo met his French counterpart Florence Parly in Jakarta. This also came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid a visit to Australia as a show of US determination not to allow China free rein in the Western Pacific and particularly in the South China Sea, which Beijing regards as its own backyard.
The F-15 potential sale to Indonesia followed a mid-December trip to Jakarta by Blinken, who at the time lauded close US-Indonesia ties despite human rights concerns that have delayed previous arms sales.
Military expert Khairul Fahmi from the Institute of Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS) says that challenge in the F-15EX deal does not only come from negotiation with the US, but also fiscal space that is not flexible enough to accommodate Indonesia’s defense sector.
“Domestically, the challenge is how to convert the qualitative narrative related to primary-weapons system spending, including F15, into figures that are feasible for the transaction to be carried out,” Fahmi said.
In their meeting at the Pentagon earlier this month, Prabowo and Austin discussed opportunities for the two countries to coordinate in pursuit of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific and bolster bilateral ties.
To support the aim of continued cooperation between the countries, Austin expressed “interest” in continuing to assist in the modernization of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and to strengthen interoperability between the US and Indonesia.
Austin’s dialogue with Prabowo appears to be part of ongoing efforts by the US to strengthen partnerships with countries in the region as it looks to counter Beijing’s growing military presence, which Washington sees as a global security and stability threat.
The meeting signals a further thaw in the US’ attitude toward Prabowo. The retired general had long been barred from entering the US over allegations of human rights violations in relation to Indonesia’s occupation of Timor Leste, but in 2020, then-US defense secretary Mark Esper invited Prabowo to the country for defense talks, an overture that the minister accepted.
“In the context of defense diplomacy, Prabowo’s visit to the Pentagon is aimed to increase trust and reduce worries and misunderstandings between Indonesia and the US in the face of growing tension in the region,” Fahmi of the ISESS said.
“At the end of the day, we still have to maintain our balancing act by being a good consumer — spending our money for infrastructure in China while having a military shopping in America and others,” Fahmi added.
Indonesia, in leading a push to avoid polarization in the Indo-Pacific, has championed ASEAN centrality as a means to keep regional cooperation inclusive and rooted in existing regional mechanisms.