‘Indonesian’ Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters are lost assets

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Insights from Vietnamese experts suggest that Indonesia’s decision not to invest in Russian Su-35 fighter jets was a missed opportunity. The Vietnamese resource, Nghiện Xịu Chiến Lược [translates to Strategy Research], indicates that while Indonesia has marked out a clear course for its development, implementing this vision is proving to be a challenge. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Nghiện Xịu Chiến Lược highlights that in 2013, a Russian-Indonesian military-technical cooperation agreement was signed. This agreement paved the way for Russia to establish a maintenance center in Indonesia. The center was intended to provide comprehensive services for Russian-made weapons used by the Indonesian army, including the maintenance, repair, and overhaul of weapon systems for combat aviation. Furthermore, the agreement allowed for the formation of joint ventures for the research, development, and production of weaponry and provided technical training support for Jakarta. 

“Investing in Russian fighter jets would have proven highly beneficial for Indonesia,” the Vietnamese publication argues. This claim harkens back to the 2013 agreement, which the publication posits, could have accelerated the growth of the Indonesian defense industry if the army had decided to purchase Russian Su-35 fighter jets. The publication draws an analogy with India’s production of Su-30MKI fighters, which are manufactured under a Russian license but customized to meet the needs of the Indian Air Force.

Photo credit: Zona Jakarta

A strategic move

According to BulgarianMilitary.com, Indonesia was on the brink of acquiring Russian Su-35 fighter planes. A mutual agreement was established with Moscow to deliver 11 jets to Jakarta for a price tag of $1.15 billion. However, only half of the payment was slated to be in monetary form. The remaining balance was proposed to be covered through a trade deal involving commodities such as palm oil, coffee, and rubber. 

Still, this arrangement plummeted when Indonesia decided to annul the deal with Russia in 2020. Nikkei Asia suggests that political roadblocks are the reason behind the delay. While Asian media outlets provide a “diplomatic explanation”, the stark reality is that threats of sanctions from Washington under the CAATSA law forced Indonesia to discreetly succumb to the pressure, prompting them to seek alternatives. 

Nevertheless, opting for the Rafale instead of the Su-35 showcases Jakarta’s strategic decision-making. To avoid further distressing Russia, Indonesia chose to disregard the proposition of new and second-hand F-16s, even as potential supplements to their air fleet. Instead, much like the trend observed in the past 36 months, Indonesia exhibited a preference for the French Rafale fighter jet. This stands as the compromise least likely to provoke Moscow. This decision is notably important since Indonesia is currently employing outdated Russian Su-27s, a situation it is unable to rectify due to the prevailing economic sanctions against Russia.

Indonesia did not lose combat capability

The Sukhoi Su-35 and the Dassault Rafale are both multirole fighter aircraft, designed to perform a wide range of missions. They are capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, making them versatile assets in any air force. Both the Su-35 and Rafale have twin engines, providing them with high speed, maneuverability, and reliability. They are capable of supercruise, which is the ability to maintain supersonic flight without the use of afterburners. This feature increases their operational range and reduces their fuel consumption. 

Another similarity between the Su-35 and Rafale is their focus on stealth technology. While they are not fully stealth aircraft like the F-35, they incorporate design elements and materials that reduce their radar cross-section. Both aircraft also feature advanced radar systems. The Su-35 is equipped with the Irbis-E radar, while the Rafale uses the RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array radar. These systems provide long-range detection and tracking, multi-target engagement capability, and improved resistance to electronic countermeasures. 

Finally, the Su-35 and Rafale are both designed with a high degree of automation and pilot assistance features. They incorporate fly-by-wire control systems to help reduce pilot workload and increase flight safety. In addition, both aircraft have advanced cockpit displays and avionics systems, offering pilots a high level of situational awareness.

Indonesian-Russian relations

The bond that Indonesia shares with Russia is not simply a fleeting occurrence from yesterday afternoon. Rather, it’s a resilient connection that has its roots embedded deeply since Indonesia’s birth as an independent nation. The bond, originally forged with the Soviet Union, continues to flourish with its modern-day successor, Russia. 

Let’s take a peek at history. Back in 1962, as Indonesia asserted its authority over Papua Barat [previously known as Irian Jaya Barat or West Irian], it received robust support from the Soviet Union. The Russian heavyweight bestowed upon Indonesia an Irian-class cruiser, Ordzhonikidze. This was a light cruiser of the USSR Navy, part of Project 68-bis, often referred to as “Sverdlov”. From 1963 to 1972, it served in the Indonesian Navy, christened as KRI Irian [201]. This cruiser is widely accepted as one of the largest ships ever to be part of Indonesia’s naval fleet.

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