Indonesia strengthens links with South Korea

Byline: John B. Haseman / Colorado

The Indonesia Ministry of Defence has significantly expanded defence cooperation with its Republic of Korea (ROK) counterpart. While the two countries have long enjoyed close diplomatic and military ties, the two defence establishments are moving toward much expanded ties. The primary field of interest is in defence industry and import/export of defence systems and equipment.

In May 2011 Indonesia signed a contract to purchase 16 of South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle jet trainer aircraft. That aircraft is a joint venture by South Korea’s Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) and the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin. Korea has set a goal of selling 1,000 aircraft by the year 2030 but the global financial crisis has made achievement of this ambitious goal difficult. Several countries, including Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, have lost interest in the T-50 and are exploring other choices. With no buyers lined up, KAI – which enjoys ROK government financial backing – has been anxious to find a sale.

The cost of the deal with Jakarta is reportedly US$400 million. This marks the first confirmed export sale of this aircraft. Delivery is planned for 2013. The contract also provides for much-needed technology transfer, which will benefit PT Dirgantara Indonesia, Indonesia’s nearly-moribund aircraft industry. The supersonic Golden Eagles will replace the Indonesian Air Force’s aging and outmoded fleet of trainers, which includes 1980s era British Hawk Mk 53 (only 2 of an original 20 aircraft are still in service), Hawk 109, and the 1980s era US F-5 trainers. The U.S. posed no objection to Indonesia’s purchase of the aircraft – a clearance is required because of the substantial U.S. content in the Golden Eagle.

The 13.13-meter-long, 9.45-meter-wide and 4.94-meter-high plane can fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.4 and as high as 14,630 meters. The T-50 is equipped with a range of advanced systems to train pilots in both current and next-generation combat jets, as well as featuring sophisticated anti-air and anti-ground weapons systems. The aircraft is close in design to the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter, which is already in the Indonesian air force inventory.

While the T-50 purchase is a significant investment by Indonesia, it may well be overshadowed by another planned ROK-Indonesia cooperative project. If it comes to fruition, the largest Indonesia-ROK defence cooperation project is likely to be Indonesia’s potential involvement in development of the ROK’s Korean Experimental Fighter (KF-X). The two countries are in advanced negotiations on a joint technological research agreement for production of the KF-X, to be manufactured by ROK’s Korean Aerospace Industries, with which Indonesia’s PT Dirgantara Indonesia would be a minority partner. The ROK has offered to fund 80 percent of the project; Indonesia’s share of 20 percent would reduce its cost to approximately 10.1 trillion rupiah, or about US$1.01 billion at current exchange rates. In return for this investment, Indonesia will acquire fighter aircraft technologies, knowledge of production techniques, and an option to procure up to 50 KF-X fighters at a later date. Jakarta will also benefit from any future exports of the aircraft. The ROK would retain four of the five prototypes while Indonesia would receive one prototype aircraft. Should this ambitious project be successful, the planned production of the KF-X is 250 aircraft.

Some Indonesian parliamentarians have expressed outrage at the estimated cost figures for Indonesia’s share of prototype development, to say nothing of the cost per aircraft – which at an estimated US$50 million each would make it very expensive for Indonesia.
The KF-X project was first announced back in 2001 and it has proceeded slowly through the design stage. Originally planned to have stealth capabilities, this technology has been downgraded to “semi-stealth” – whatever that means.

The ROK air force would use the KF-X to replace its aging F-4 and F-5 aircraft fleets. This aircraft follows ROK’s development of the KF-16 jet fighter. The KF-X would be in direct competition with the Lockheed Martin supported F-35 fighter, which would have more advanced technology and which has strong support in ROK political circles, which holds that the ROK should have the highest possible technological capabilities to confront the threat posed by North Korea.

The F-50 purchase and the KF-X project have invited the attention of the two countries’ presidents. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ROK President Lee Myung-bak met in December 2010 on the sidelines of the Bali Democracy Conference. The deals also were featured in a controversial accusation that ROK intelligence officials allegedly entered at least one room in Seoul occupied by a member of a delegation of inquiry headed by Indonesian Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa.

The T-50 and KF-X projects are just the latest in a long line of defence projects between the two countries, especially since President Yudhoyono and former ROK President Roh Moo-hyun signed a declaration of strategic partnership in 2006 (see Table 1). Indonesia’s interest in the KF-X rather than the F-35 can be attributed to the alternative source (ROK vs the US) as well as cost.

Indonesia already has twelve ROK KT-1 Wong-Bee trainers in service, with the initial batch of seven aircraft being acquired under a 1997 barter agreement involving eight CN-235s in exchange for the KT-1s, as well as trucks for the army and a hospital ship for the navy. Indonesia is eventually hoping to obtain about 20 KT-1Bs.
The Indonesian navy has four landing ship dock (LSD) vessels acquired with ROK help. The first two, dubbed the Makassar Class, were built at the Daesun Shipyard in Busan and commissioned in 2007. One is designed to function as a command and control ship while the other is more tactical in design and capabilities. The second batch of LSDs, dubbed the Banjarmasin Class, were built at the PT PAL shipyard in Surabaya, with extensive ROK technical assistance, and launched in 2009 (KRI Banjarmasin) and 2010 (KRI Banda Aceh). The two classes are very similar and both based on Indonesia’s older model Tanjung Dalpele class LSD. The Banjarmasin class ships can accommodate five helicopters, while the ROK-made Makassar class ships can take three.

Indonesia’s Defence Minister, Dr. Purnomo Yusgiantoro, is an enthusiastic proponent of expanding Indonesia’s defence industry potential and to diversity the country’s sources of military equipment. Indonesia’s military readiness was badly degraded by the long ban on arms sales imposed by the United States and the European Union after 1998 violence in East Timor. Indonesia is determined to expand the sources of its primary weapons systems to avoid any similar boycotts in the future. In addition to the purchases and plans initiated with the ROK, Indonesia has expanded purchases of equipment from Russia, China, and other sources.



KT-1 Wong Bee Trainer Aircraft 20 purchased, 2003
Makassar Class Landing Ship Dock 2 built by Daesun in Korea and delivered 2007
Banjarmasin Class Landing Ship Dock 2 built at PT PAL with ROK technical assistance
Changbogo Submarines Under discussion for possible barter with PT Dirgantara Indonesia
CN-235 aircraft, to obtain 2 submarines
Type 7A1 Landing ship tank 10 delivered, 25 pending
K-21 Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle 22 units, funded by ROK grant of US$70 million in 2010
T-50 Golden Eagle Jet trainer aircraft Purchase contract signed for 50 aircraft, May 2011
KF-X Experimental semi-stealth capability jet fighter Exploratory discussions
Source: Tempo Magazine, March 23-29, 2011



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