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Indonesia scrambles F-16s to intercept US planes

July 4, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Indonesia's air force went into high alert on thursday after its radar detected what it said were five U.S. F-18 jets flying in the country's airspace over the Java sea.

Captain Lubis, a Indonesia Air Force spokesman, said that two F-16 block 15OCU were deployed to intercept the U.S. Hornets which were maneuvering over Bawean Island off the eastern coast of Java island .

The F-16s were block 15OCU aircraft from Iswahyudi AFB. According to Lubis, more details would be provided in a media conference today.

A unnamed air force officer has been quoted to say that the US planes were spotted flying for more than two hours above the islands, 800 kilometers west of Jakarta. The planes did not give chase when the US jets left the area.

There were five Hornets in the group and they locked on the F-16s. They asked whether the planes were friends or foe and an international sign indicating they were friends was relayed back.

A US spokesman, Colonel Sagom Tamboen, told the naval aircraft had sought permission to enter Indonesian airspace while escorting a US aircraft carrier. But the request arrived too late at the air force defense headquarters in Jakarta due to red tape, Tamboen said.

Nationalist politicians and military officers have long complained about espionage flights or clandestine airdrops by foreign aircraft across Indonesia's 13,000 islands, which sit strategically between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The incident follows efforts to rebuild U.S.-Indonesian military relations that were cut in response to Jakarta's failure to rein in militias that rampaged in East Timor when the tiny territory voted to break free in 1999.

Those restrictions include the sale of spare parts for Indonesia's F-16 jets, which has grounded a number of them.