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Why did Indonesia cancel the purchase of Su-35 fighters and opt for F-15EX or French Rafale?

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Su-35
Russia's Sukhoi Su-35S © Yuri Smityuk/TASS

Indonesia has abandoned the purchase of 11 multifunctional Russian Su-35 fighters and plans to buy American F-15EX or French Rafale instead, said Air Force Chief of Staff Fajara Praseto.

As CNN Indonesia reported on Thursday, the Air Chief Marshal announced this during a visit to Halim Perdanakusuma airbase near Jakarta.

“With a heavy heart, we abandoned our plans to acquire the Su-35 because, as we said from the very beginning, the construction of the air force is very dependent on the budget,” Fajar explained.

According to him, depending on the possibilities of the budget, Indonesia would like to purchase two or three squadrons of fighters of the 4.5 generation of medium or heavy class – about 30 units in total.

At the moment, Jakarta is considering the acquisition of American F-15EX Eagle II or French Dassault Rafale. “The choice is narrowing on these two planes,” Fajar said.

At the same time, he pointed out that if Jakarta stops at F-15EX fighters, then it will be able to get them by 2027.

Indonesia planned to purchase 11 Russian Su-35 fighters for $ 1.1 billion, but following negotiations in 2018, it did not sign a contract.

As per the deal, Russia was required to buy a number of commodities from Indonesia like palm oil, coffee, rubber and tea with the total import value of at least $570 million or about half of the Sukhoi deal.

CAATSA in play

In the fall of 2018, Kommersant wrote that in the implementation of the contract for the supply of fighters, difficulties arose associated with the application by the United States of the Law on Confronting America’s Adversaries through Sanctions (CAATSA), which implies the introduction of secondary sanctions against those who make significant transactions with representatives of the Russian defense industry. Despite the threat of US sanctions, the head of the Ministry of Defense of Indonesia, in October of that year, said that the deal with Moscow remain in force.

“We will never cancel. We continue to implement the contract, “Indonesian Defense Minister Riamizard Riachudu had said. Riachudu noted that the parties “have already begun to implement the agreements,” and Jakarta is counting on the early deliveries of fighters from Russia. “I need to complete the final coordination issues, finally agree with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade on some points, this is related to the procedure for paying for the contract. On the part of the Ministry of Defense, all issues have already been resolved,” he added.

The director of the Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Dmitry Shugaev at the MAKS-2019 air show, told RIA Novosti “We understand what kind of pressure is being placed on the leadership of Indonesia.”

In August 2018, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis had expressed the confidence that the U.S would not be subjecting Indonesia to the sanctions of the CAATSA for purchasing weapons from Russia, including the Su-35 fighter aircraft. 

Mattis had urged the U.S. Congress to ease sanctions against India, Indonesia and Vietnam, as these countries had purchased arms from Russia historically and were now ‘increasingly inclined towards the United States’ to purchases of weapons and military equipment.

In response, Ryachudu had thanked his American colleague for persuading Congress to abandon the sanctions and recalled that in the near future it is planned to purchase a number of American systems, including C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft and other aviation equipment.

But the Russian papers reported that Indonesia had not been able to obtain a commercial loan, since potential creditors were afraid of secondary US sanctions.

The Indonesian Air Force has a fleet of used F-16C / D Fighting Falcon fighters, purchased from the United States, and Russian-made Su-27 and Su-30.

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