During a visit to Paris in January 2020, the Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto mentioned for the first time a potential acquisition of 48 units of the Dassault fighter jets to strengthen the ties with France and renew the Indonesian Air Force fleet. Currently, the force flies a mix of around 50 F-16 A/Bs and C/Ds, along with about 10 Russian Su-27SKM and Su-30 fighters.
The order of French aircraft was also a way to make up for the failed acquisition of 11 Russian Su-35 Flanker E fighters. Initiated in 2018, the negotiations with Russia fell through over financing conditions. The acquisition of Russian fighter jets could have also muddied the relationship with the United States, an important trade partner for Indonesia.
A great deal has happened since then concerning Indonesia’s ambitious fighter fleet modernization. Subianto initially expressed interest in the Lockheed Martin F-35A fifth-generation stealth fighter as an alternative to the missed Russian fighters. But on November 2, 2020, the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States, Muhammad Lutfi, explained that Washington turned down the idea as it would take nine years to fulfill a possible order. Instead, the Southeast Asian country was proposed to acquire the F-16 in its latest variant called Viper or the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The counteroffer was reportedly turned down.
In a surprise move, the Austrian authorities revealed in July 2020 that they received a letter of intent from the Indonesian government to acquire the fleet of 15 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets that have been the target of constant debate for the last two decades. In September 2020, Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner said she was ready to move forward with the negotiations, which are reportedly still ongoing.
The French comeback
Given the multiple interests shown by the Indonesian Defense Minister throughout the year, one could have assumed that the Dassault Rafale was not on the table anymore. Yet on December 3, Florence Parly, the French Minister for the Armed Forces, told BFMTV the negotiations for a possible Indonesian order for 36 Rafale were at a “very advanced” stage. “It is not yet quite signed, we have worked a lot on it,” Parly said.
Not only is Indonesia still interested in the French fighters, but it is reportedly in a hurry to acquire it. The archipelago country would like to seal the deal before the end of 2020, forcing French negotiators to temper their eagerness to adjust the details, according to multiple sources cited by La Tribune. Depending on the configuration of the aircraft and the weapons included in the deal, the contract could exceed €7 billion.
If it were to go through, the contract would put a strain on Dassault Aviation and its subcontractors. Indeed, the French manufacturer is already about to receive an emergency order of 12 Rafale fighter jets to replace the second-hand aircraft taken from the French Air Force inventory for the benefit of Greece. Facing rising tensions with Turkey, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced in mid-September that six new and twelve used Rafales F3R would be acquired as quickly as possible.
In addition to that, Dassault Aviation is currently competing in multiple tenders, namely India, Croatia, Finland, Switzerland. “We have to imagine all kinds of scenarios making it possible to deliver the various customers while taking into account the needs of the French Air Force”, explained Parly, whose minister is discussing a ramp-up of the Rafale production output with Dassault Aviation. In 2019, the French manufacturer delivered 26 Rafale jets to Qatar, Egypt, and India.