Indonesia might buy Rafale 4++ fighter jets. Rumors or not, this is a bad choice

JAKARTA, (BM) – The Indonesian Armed Forces are reportedly considering placing an order for Dassault Rafale ‘4+ Generation’ twin engine medium fighters from France, alongside possible orders for Scorpene Class submarines and Gowind Class corvettes.

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The deal could potentially see Indonesia become by far the largest foreign operator of the Rafale, with up to 48 of the costly aircraft set to be purchased – at an estimated cost of over $14 billion.

The Rafale could potentially replace older Su-27 heavyweight fighters and F-16C light fighters in frontline service, which though state of the art for their time and retaining many flight performance advantages over then newer French jets are fast ageing and lack up to date sensors and electronics.

Despite significant efforts to market the Rafale for export for almost 20 years, France has secured sales for just 96 fighters to India, Egypt and Qatar – all purchases which are strongly suspected by analysts of being politically motivated.

Based on an assessment of previous contracts for Rafale fighters, the aircraft are being marketed for export at approximately $292 million each – approximately 240% the cost of the American F-16V which, although lighter, is thought to have more sophisticated sensors and electronics, and 360% the cost of the Su-35 – a heavyweight platform which outperforms the Rafale across the spectrum.

Indeed, even the new American F-35A stealth fighters being offered to Singapore and other clients are considerably cheaper than the Rafale, at around $200 million each, despite the massive discrepancy in capabilities favouring the American fighter.

The Rafale would be acquired at around 150% the price per unit of the F-35. With Indonesia already having placed orders for the Su-35, and neighbouring Singapore set to field both the F-16V and the F-35 – the latter also fielded by Australia – purchasing the Rafale would arguably be the least cost effective option for Indonesian fleet modernisation.

While the Rafale is somewhat capable as a medium weight platform, its cost is considered extreme relative to its capabilities – which is partly a result of its low production run and the general inefficiency of French military aviation relative to the United States, Russia and other more major producers.

The introduction of French fighters would further require a complete overhaul of Indonesian infrastructure and equipment, as the aircraft will be completely incompatible with the existing munitions and other assets acquired to operate American and Russian hardware.

Egypt, India and Qatar were all previously operators of the Mirage 2000, the Rafale’s Cold War era predecessor, meaning that all were familiar with operating French jets and had much of the required infrastructure already in place to do so. This could make an Indonesian purchase even more costly than purchases were for the jet’s previous clients.

The Rafale will, upon entering service, be the slowest fighter in the Indonesian fleet and will lack the endurance needed for long range patrols as the Su-35 and Su-30 have, or the low operational cost and high sortie rate of the F-16 for higher intensity combat against nearer adversaries – leaving the Rafale in a precarious middle ground.

This is, ultimately, what the aircraft was designed to be – a middle ground jack of all trades for air forces such as France which cannot afford to develop complementary classes of heavy and lightweight classes of fighters as the Americans did with the F-15/F-22 and the F-16/F-35 or the Russians did with the Su-27/Su-57 and the MiG-29/MiG-35.

The U.S. Navy previously fielded a high-low combination with the F-14 and F-18C, before shifting to a medium weight fleet comprised of F-18E fighters to reduce costs, but is again shifting to a high-low combination as great power competition reemerges with the F-X and F-35C combination.

France’s aircraft will face several performance shortcomings at the high end of the spectrum against heavyweight jets such as the F-15 and Su-35 – but equally will be more costly to operate and have a lower sortie rate than jets at the lower end such as the F-16. For a fleet which already fields complementary classes of heavy and light fighters with the Flanker-Fighting Flacon combination, the Rafale has little place in the Indonesian Air Force.

Ultimately while Indonesia’s Air Force arguably needs more investment in modernisation to follow on from the recent order for 11 Su-35 fighters, the Rafale purchase remains one of the least cost effective means of doing so and ultimately offers no notable advantages over American and Russian classes of fighters which could justify the funds which would be sunk should a purchase be made. With the U.S. looking to expand the number of operators of the F-35, and with Indonesia having been a major American defence client for over 50 years, approval for sales of these superior jets remains possible and will be much cheaper per unit than the Rafale.

Expanded participation in the South Korean KF-X program, which will by the mid 2020s provide fifth generation stealth fighters expected to outperform the French jets, could also prove a much sounder investment.

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Military Watch Magazine
Original title: A Very Bad Choice for Indonesia? Jakarta Considering French Rafale Fighters for Air Force Modernisation
Source: Military Watch Magazine

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BGM`s editorial stance.