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Indonesia considering more F-16s

June 1, 2008 (by Asif Shamim) - Trading has reported that the Indonesian Air Force will consider an offer from the US government regarding the sale of block 52 F-16s & C-130J Hercules.

TNI-AU F-16A block 15 #TS-1611 is returning from a mission. [Photo by Alex Sidharta]

The article refers back to a report from the Indonesian Antara news agency dated February 17th, 2008. According to Vice Air Marshal Soenaryo, chief of the Air Force's Material Maintenance Command, "We will consider buying the planes under our procurement plan for 2010-2014,".

The procurement of F-16s would fit in with the Air Force's plan to reduce the variety of its aircraft to economize on maintenance and servicing costs in the 2008-2019 period, Soenaryo said.

The F-16s could potentially replace the aging F-5E Tiger which have in service for almost 25 years.

"We will possibly build up an F-16 squadron gradually in the 2010-2014 budget years. The interest to acquire the aircraft must first be thoroughly considered at Air Force Headquarters level with due account being taken of the limited amount of state funds available. After approval has been obtained at Air Force Headquarters level, we will submit the plan to the Defence Ministry for acquisition," Soenaryo said.

The US offer has received mixed reactions from the defence, information and foreign affairs commission in the House of Representatives (DPR) with some of its members urging the government to be wary.

Some of them questioned the motives behind the offer as it came when Russia and China were trying to forge military ties with Indonesia.

Many fear threats of embargoes from the US, which had already imposed one back in 1999 during the East Timor crisis. However this was partially lifted in 2005.

Mutammimul Ula, a member of the House commission was quoted to have said "Past experience should be a good lesson for us, because the US embargo rendered our fighter jets useless". This in regards to the existing block 15OCU F-16s serving with the air force.

The government has been recommended to go ahead with plans to buy further Russian made Sukhoi jets. The Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) plans to form two squadrons of Sukhoi jet fighters by 2010. This potential purchase is also affected by government budget constraints and would also affect any purchase of new fighters from the US.

Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono was quoted to have said "Our budget is not enough. So, even if there is no objection we cannot afford to buy them," he said regarding the purchase of new F-16s. He said Indonesia would only consider refurbishing six F-16 A/B models owned by its air force which have been grounded for some while.

Air Force Chief of Staff Marshal Subandrio said the TNI-AU was still waiting for the budget to refurbish the F-16 A/B variants it procured back in 1989.

"We have already put it (refurbishing F-16 A/B variants) in our program. But the budget is not yet available," he said.

Commander of Iswahyudi Air Base Commodore Dede Rusamsi said the F-16s at the air base were in good condition. A problem would arise if one of the F-16 spare parts malfunctioned, he said.

Rusami said although the US had lifted its F-16 spare parts embargo on Indonesia, the TNI-AU was still meeting with difficulties in buying items it needed.