The eccentricity of Indonesian military acquisitions probably peaked in 1993 with the highly questionable decision to purchase more than 40 used ships from the former East German Navy. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, these ships – which included patrol craft and minesweepers – were very much surplus to requirements and going cheap. Even though they had a reasonable amount of life left in them – in theory – the problem that soon became apparent was that they proved expensive to support as the sources of spare parts gradually vanished. What might have looked to some as a quick way of boosting the size of the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) turned out to have the opposite effect, with many platforms soon becoming unserviceable – or at least prohibitively difficult and expensive to maintain.
Since that time, procurements have continued in something of a haphazard way – but on the whole there has been a collective realisation that trying to standardise platforms for all three services is a sensible strategy because it makes support costs manageable. Until now, it looked like the Air Force (TNI-AU) was making good progress in the structure of its combat arm with purchases of new Sukhoi Flankers of various designations, supplemented by second hand F-16s. However, as has been revealed in Austria, in early June Indonesia offered to buy that country’s 13 Eurofighters. For starters it is not known if they are actually for sale – but even if they are it would be an odd choice given that they will be yet another orphan platform in the Indonesian inventory.
The current batch of Eurofighters are fine platforms in the same general class as other twin engine 4++ generation aircraft such as the Rafale, Super Hornet, and Su-30. However, getting them to the appropriate level of technology has taken a lot of time – and the Austrian aircraft are much older Tranche 1 jets. To say that Tranche 1 had rather basic functionality is something of an understatement as they were only designed for an air-to-air role and in a very poor choice even lacked a cannon, relying entirely on missiles for combat missions. The main problem is that there are plenty of targets not worth a missile – for example a UAV or perhaps a small helicopter – but which could be successfully engaged with a few cannon rounds. Another issue is that for some missions, for example during times of tension but not actual war, you might only wish to damage or scare another aircraft rather than blowing it out of the sky – something that is almost certain to happen if you launch a missile at it rather than fire a few rounds near it. Another weakness of Tranche 1 aircraft is that they use an out of date mechanically scanned radar.
It is always possible to upgrade Tranche 1 aircraft – but the basic question is why spend the money doing that rather than on some additional F-16s? For the moment Russian aircraft are out of the equation because of sanctions – but both Governments have been looking at ways around that, including the possibility of a barter trade deal. If the Indonesian Government in the form of powerful if somewhat erratic Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto – a former controversial Presidential candidate – is in a desperate rush for additional fighter aircraft the country would be better off looking at the Gripen from Saab – which is less expensive to acquire and much, much easier and cheaper to support and operate. Just ask Thailand about how happy they are with their 11 Gripens. Anyway, we should keep in mind that the Defence Minister has also expressed earlier interest in purchasing Rafales from France – but that seems to have been a thought bubble. It is possible that the Eurofighter idea is in the same category.
Also it should be kept in mind that Indonesia – officially at least – is still committed to the twin jet South Korean KFX/IFX next generation combat aircraft, which should start to become available in significant numbers by the mid 2020s. How many expensive gap filler aircraft does the country actually need in the meantime?