According to the Indonesian Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto wanted to get several F-35s from the US. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper instead had the newest Fighting Falcon 'F-16 Viper' as an option.
F-16 Viper, Lockheed-Martin's best-seller for emerging air forces
Indonesia is one of those Southeast Asian countries affected by China's aggressive attitude. Subianto sees the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter as a major move to advance Indonesia's air power. The Viper is an upgrade over the recent Fighting Falcons used by many air forces, reported Aerotime.
Why the interest in top-of-the-line U.S. fighter planes?
Sources indicate that the Indonesian Air Force (IAF) wants to upgrade its fighter fleet and refresh it significantly with challenges in the Indo-Pacific. So far, the IAF has a ragtag mix of older F-16 A/Bs, about 50 of them, Russian Su-27SKM and Su-30s. There are 10 in all. They, like many nations, are arming up due to the situation in South China Sea waters.
In 2018, the Indonesian Defense was considering buying 11 new Russian Su-35 Flanker E fighters, which costs $1.14 billion. There were financing problems that involved the export of raw materials, and the order was never proceeded with.
Compared to the US-made fighter planes, the ones made by Russia are way cheaper, and the Viper has more upgrades and modern equipment.
One of the major reasons for halting the purchase of Russian jets is it could have created difficulty with the United States, a major ally and trading partner. Indonesia does not want to be sanctioned by the US, based on Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). So, getting the advanced viper is an option.
The possible approval of F-35As made by Lockheed Martin is a huge fallback to consider if the Russian deal failed. Indonesia believes its relationship with America is important now more than ever, with the international situation in Asia changing fast.
Still looking to upgrade its fighter inventory, in July 2020, Indonesia has made headlines that Subianto had sent Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner a letter. He wrote the Bundesheer was looking to retire 15 Eurofighter Typhoons, and there was interest in buying them.
But in July 2020, Indonesia's fighter shopping list broke the news again when it appeared that Subianto had sent a letter to Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner to express his interest in acquiring 15 Eurofighter Typhoons that the Bundesheer was on the lookout to retire. Reportedly, Tanner said that she was ready to move forward with the negotiations in September 2020. According to reports, the proposal is still being negotiated.
Sorry no F-35s just Vipers
The news came that the Indonesia Air Force will not have the F-35 Lightning II-A in its weapon inventory now or in the future. On November 2, the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States, Muhammad Lutfi, said that Washington couldn't make the sale in less than nine years. Demand for it is great, and other nations are lining up.
To help the Southeast Asian country, the F-16 Viper was suggested, or the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is also a possible deal. Both planes are considered excellent fighters even against 4++ gen. fighter planes. One of Indonesia's territories, the Natuna islands, could be threatened by Chinese claim jumpers close to the South China Sea.