Indonesia hosts B-52 bombers, undermining military ties with China

For the first time in history, on June 19, the U.S. Air Force sent its B-52H Stratofortress intercontinental-range strategic bombers to touch down on Indonesian soil. Their landing spot? The strategically important Kualanamu International Airport is nestled on the island of Sumatra. 

Indonesia hosts B-52 bombers, undermining military ties with China
Photo credit: Twitter

Joining the bombers in their journey were three of Indonesia’s own F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets, stalwarts of the country’s aerial arsenal alongside their Russian Su-27 and Su-30 counterparts. These aircraft, previously owned by the U.S., now serve as the backbone of Indonesia’s fleet. The B-52s embarked on their historic flight from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, a U.S. stronghold in the region, where nuclear-armed bombers have been a near-constant presence for decades.

US sent a bomber to the area where Russia fired a supersonic AShM - B-52 bomber
Photo by 2nd Lt. Mary Begy

Indonesia, which had previously refused to permanently house U.S. military aircraft, now hosts American B-52s. This change is due to increased pressure from Washington and the trend among Pacific Island nations to permanently house U.S. assets. 

The U.S. has considered Indonesia as a strategic base since the beginning of the Obama administration. Under the ‘Pivot to Asia’ initiative, the U.S. started focusing more on the Western Pacific, due to the increasing defense capabilities of China posing a threat to Western military dominance in the region.

USAF B-52H bomber broke a wing, crashed into a fence - a document
Photo credit: Wikipedia

More stopovers in Indonesia

B-52s are now continually deployed in Northern Australia, potentially leading to more stopovers in Indonesia. Despite being older, B-52s remain powerful combat aircraft that are reliable and versatile, unlike their newer counterparts, the B-1B and B-2 bombers.

The recent deployment of B-52s bombers to Indonesia is noteworthy. These bombers, upgraded in the late 2010s, can cover vast Chinese and North Korean territories from the South China Sea. They are believed to be part of Exercise Cope West 2023, a training exercise at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base involving the U.S. and Indonesian air forces.  

Indonesia’s air force utilizes American aircraft but in a limited capacity. Their F-16s lack beyond visual range air-to-air capabilities, making them globally less capable. Therefore, Indonesia heavily relies on Russian aircraft for national airspace security. However, plans to acquire Russian Su-35 fighters were dropped in 2018 due to potential U.S. sanctions.

Jakarta remains neutral

Despite ongoing tensions between China and the United States, and Russia and NATO, Jakarta remains neutral. It’s noteworthy that the Indonesian Military has historically been influenced by Western countries. In 1965, with aid from American, British, and Australian allies, the military led a coup against a government aligned with China and the Soviet Union. 

In present times, the Indonesian Military retains considerable political influence. Although the business sector favors stronger ties with China, the nation’s main trade and tech partner, the existing bond between the American and Indonesian military acts as a counterbalance. This alliance is important to balance the growing economic ties with China.

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