On August 10, Indonesia signed a deal with Russia to acquire 11 Sukhoi Su-35S “Super Flanker” jet fighters. In exchange, Russia agreed to take half of the contract value in Indonesian agricultural goods like cocoa, coffee, rubber, seafood, or tea, Flight Global reports. This Wednesday, the governments of both countries issued a joint statement in which they confirmed the deal and the associated $1.14 billion price tag.
Jakarta is a key player in the Asia-Pacific region and an important exporter of agricultural and industrial goods. The country also produces its own weapons, some of which are also listed among the items Russia has agreed to acquire.
The Su-35 will replace the venerable Northrop F-5E Freedom Fighter. This small American-made aircraft was obtained by Indonesia in 1982 to take the place of the Korean War-era F-86 Sabre.
The bid to replace the F-5s, moved by the need to find a specialized air superiority fighter, also included the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, Mikoyan MiG-35, and Lockheed-Martin F-16V Viper, but the Su-35 came out as the winner after years of negotiations. With it, the Indonesian Air Force may have found a powerful weapons system and force multiplier to suit its needs.
However, Jakarta has larger plans to modernize its Air Force that go beyond the purchase of the Russian jets.
The Sukhoi “Flanker” family began with the Su-27 air superiority fighter, which entered service with the Soviet Union in 1985 and stemmed from a need to compete with what was at the time the new generation of American jets, like the F-15 and the F-16. NATO gave this new fighter the “Flanker” code name, and since then, this fighter came to acquit itself as a respectable weapons platform with great range and incredible maneuvering capabilities.
The Su-27 also gave rise to a host of derivative designs, like the multi-role Su-30, the ground-attack Su-34, the air superiority Su-35 in Russia, and the J-11 series in China. Such aircraft have been purchased by air forces from all over the world, including countries like Venezuela, Algeria, India, or Vietnam.
The Su-35 is the newest variant of this family. The first models, dubbed Su-27M at the time, appeared in 1988, but the splitting of the Soviet Union and the faltering Russian economy of the 1990s curtailed any further development.
In the early 21st century, the need to modernize the Russian Air Force led to the upgrade of several aging designs, including the Su-27M, in the meanwhile renamed Su-35. The type received many newer systems, like a glass cockpit, an N-035 Irbis-E PESA radar, new Saturn AL-41F1S engines with thrust-vectoring nozzles and a revised fuselage that was both lighter and sturdier compared to its Su-27 predecessor.
The Russian Air Force ordered 98 of these Su-35S aircraft, and a few of them were deployed to Syria in January 2016. The People’s Republic of China ordered another 24 units, which started to be delivered by December 2016.
Curiously enough, Indonesia is already accustomed to the Su-27 family. Jakarta was interested in the type since the late 1980s, but the 1997 financial crisis and the embargo that followed the country’s deadly intervention in Eastern Timor in 1999 obstructed any attempts of acquiring new fighters.
Indonesia’s international standing would improve during the following years, and in 2003, Jakarta would finally acquire a few Flankers. The Indonesian Air Force currently operates 16 aircraft, which include five units of the Su-27SK type, and 11 Su-30MKs.
It is believed that the current procurement of 11 Su-35s can grow to a total of 16 new fighters. According to Aviation Week, back in 2010, there were plans to eventually acquire a grand total of 180 Flankers for the Indonesian Air Force, which would make it one of the most powerful in the region, even larger than the Royal Australian Air Force.
Along with the Russian airplanes, the Indonesian Air Force also decided to obtain 24 updated F-16 fighters from the U.S. These machines belonged to the U.S. Air Force and have been modernized to the Block 50/52 standard. Moreover, an additional 10 F-16s, which were put in storage after the embargo, have been reactivated to reinforce these units.
Jakarta also purchased 16 Korean Aerospace Industries T-50 advanced training aircraft, making Seoul the third supplier of modern jets to the country.
Furthermore, Jakarta is also procuring surveillance and transport aircraft, as well as new helicopters, Aviation International News reports. With these acquisitions, the Indonesian Air Force is growing in size and capability, with the hope of building a fleet befitting its regional importance.
[Featured Image by Michel Euler/AP Images]