Korea’s KF-21 might knock out the French Rafale in Indonesia

SEOUL ($1=1,428.51 South Korean Wons) — The sale of the previously announced 42 French Rafale fighter jets to Indonesia may not take place. Indonesia is part of South Korea’s fifth-generation KF-21 fighter jet program. Until weeks ago, Indonesia was unable to meet the financial requirements to participate in the program. However, the situation seems to be changing.

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Photo credit: YouTube

In early October, it was confirmed that Jakarta had already paid US$6 million in backlogs to the KF-21 program. The Indonesian government has promised Seoul that another US$33 million will be transferred in 2023. Promising steps from Jakarta, although, what was paid and promised is less than the 10 percent that Jakarta has to invest, as a partner in the program. Nearly US$561 million is the participation of Indonesia in the joint project with South Korea.

The payments made and the intentions of future cash transfers to Seoul could prove to be bad news for Dassault Aviation and its flagship Dassault Rafale. Indonesia has announced its intentions to invest in new equipment for its Air Force. France’s Rafale received some good news at the start of the year when Jakarta expressed intentions to buy 42 units. Now, however, that eventual order is on the line.

The two fighters are as different as they are similar. Although the Rafale does not have the stealth technology of the KF-21, both fighters use weaker engines than, for example, the Chinese J-20. Avionics between the two fighters will match, as well as air-to-air weaponry, with the French Meteor missile also thought to be part of the KF-21’s combat capability.

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Photo credit: Dassault Rafale

Despite the good relationship between Jakarta and Paris, Seoul is already cooperating on a deeper level with Indonesia. T-50 trainer aircraft are already in service with the Indonesian Air Force. One part of South Korea decided to adapt for combat use to fulfill a requirement of Indonesia.

Last but not least is age. The French Rafale is a Cold War development. 36 years later, South Korea is offering a nearly identical fighter, but a new design with an open architecture that will allow for easier renewal and upgrading of the aircraft’s combat capabilities.

South Korea can of course even use its excellent strategic partnerships to influence the Indonesian decision. Turkey is one of the possible mediators in the deal. Indonesia buys from Turkey. Turkey along with South Korea are working together on the new Turkish fighter jet and main battle tank. And of course – Turkey and France have a rather strained relationship. All these are not a plus for the French.

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Photo credit: UAC

Indonesia originally planned to buy new fighter jets in Russia. In 2018, Indonesians and Russians signed a contract to supply 11 Su-35C aircraft worth $ 1.1 billion. In 2021, Indonesia terminated the contract, citing a lack of money in the budget. But the Russians say in their publications that the real reason for the termination of the agreement is hidden US pressure and the threat of sanctions.

Currently, the Indonesian Air Force has about 10 Su-27 fighters and about 10 Su-30 fighters purchased from Russia. Also – 36 F-16 fighters. Indonesia received all these aircraft in the early 2000s.

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