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aircraft and helicopters involved in relief operations.
President Obama visiting Jakarta in November 2010
and offered help in restoring the F-16A/B fleet's
airworthiness and even to enlarge the fleet by adding
twenty four such aircraft from the U.S.A.F inventory.
By that time, however, the Indonesian air defense
system has been restored with Russian help. The
initial batch of Russian weapons was shipped by
2008. It included two Su-27SK interceptors, two
Su-30MK2 multirole fighters, two Mi-35P attack
helicopters, six Mi-17 utility helicopters, eight Mi-2
patrol helicopters, 48 BTR-80A APC and nine
thousand Kalashnikov assault rifles of the advanced
In the wake of economic growth and reviving
national spirit, the Indonesians demonstrated a
growing interest in re-equipping the Armed Forces.
The process went steadily during the term of
president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Russian
leader Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Jakarta in
September 2007, when the sides agreed terms of
a sovereign credit worth U.S. $1 billion. Together
with some cash payments and barter deals using
traditional export items (such as palm oil and
rubber), it was meant to cover shipment of the
following equipment. Three Su-27SK interceptors,
three Su-30MK2 multirole fighters, five Mi-35P
attack and seventeen Mi-17 utility helicopters,
twelve BMP-3F infantry fighting vehicles and two
Project 636 submarines.
Of recent sales into Indonesia, that of the Flankers
has been the most publicized one. Compared to the
most advanced western jet ever supplied to Jakarta
-- the F-16A Fighting Falcon lightweight fighter - the
Flanker demonstrated the following advantages:
longer range, heavier weapons load (up to eight
tons), more powerful radar and wider choice of
precision-guided munitions. The Russian jets came
equipped with R-73E and RVV-AE air-to-air, Kh-29
and Kh-59 air-to-surface, and Kh-31A anti-ship
missiles. Comparatively, the F-16s came only with the
AIM-9L Sidewinder and AGM-65 Maverick missiles.
With that, the Su-27/30 fleet is a key element in
the rebuilt air defense system. Besides, they are far
better suited for defense of the long coastline and the
expanse of the archipelago with its numerous remote
islands, than lightweight fighters and attack aircraft
previously received from western suppliers.
WEAPONS SALES IN A STRATEGIC CONTEXT
Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world,
with a population of some 258 million. In order to
make use of its gigantic, and yet largely dormant
demographic potential, the central government has
tried to develop ties with all major donors of high
technology, including China, Russia, the RoK, U.S.
and Western Europe. It selects collaborators and
weapons suppliers on a competitive basis, using the
mechanism of international tenders. That said, the
U.S. and European sanctions that did constrain the
Indonesian defense capability in the not so distant
past are not forgotten. It is no surprise therefore,
that Jakarta remains cautious towards Washington's
advice on which partners it should select in the
Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in
the world with about 17,000 islands and is also the
largest Muslim country. The Indonesian archipelago
measures 1.9 million square kilometers of land
in between the Pacific and Indian oceans. What
makes the country's position more remarkable is
that it is situated at the crossroads of global marine
traffic. The Malacca Straight, as well as Sunda and
Lombok are important passageways for merchant
shipping, with some hundred thousand movements
a year, including half of global oil tanker shipments.
Over U.S. $5 trillion in trade passes through
these passageways every year. The area becomes
increasing important to the world's superpowers: the
U.S. and China in the strategic contest for who will
dominate Asia. Today, it is difficult to predict how all
of this will play out.
The outgoing Barak Obama administration is
trying to disrupt, whenever possible, sales of Russian
and Chinese arms into the region due to political
considerations. In particular, Washington applies
pressure on Indonesia and Thailand. It accuses both
Beijing and Moscow of aggressive behavior and
pushing boundaries. This, however, does not always
take effect on Asian thinkers, who remember U.S.
bombings of Vietnam and Korea, and how European
colonialists -- being U.S. allies in NATO -- treated the
native Asian population.
There is a general trend in the region to prefer
Asian suppliers so as to tighten regional cooperation,
interdependence and to strive for common prosperity.
In this regard Russia -- the largest Asian country by
territory and coastline length -- tries to assert herself
in the region as a local rather than an outsider.
Whenever possible, Russian sales people try to
convince local clients that buying from European
NATO members does not give South-Asian nations
the political dividends they might seek, such as
bolstering interdependence and trade links with the
larger countries on the same continent.
Asian thinkers may also understand that it is not in
the interests of the United States to see developing
countries pursuing non-allied policies grow their
military forces. Rather, the U.S. wants these countries
to feel vulnerable in the face of the strong U.S.
military presence in the Pacific Rim, which further
grows as per the Pivot to Asia plan.
Instead, the Kremlin is interested in seeing the rise
of new centres of military and economic power round
the world provided they retain national identity and
sovereignty. That sets them apart from vassals and
serfs of the hegemonic superpower. The rise of India
and Indonesia (and recently, also that of China) does
not concern Russian generals and strategic planners
as they believe these are complimentary to Russia.
This prompts us think Moscow and Jakarta will tend
to cultivate their friendship and keep economic and
military cooperation growing.
F-16 Falcon's from the TNI-AU (Indonesian Air Force)
line the hardstand at Ngurah Air Force Base in Bali
during Exercise Elang Ausindo 2011. Credit: CoA
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