Why Indonesia Is Proposing Controversial Eurofighter Purchase Instead Of Buying Su-35

Why Indonesia Is Proposing Controversial Eurofighter Purchase Instead Of Buying Su-35
Austrian Airforce Eurofighter based at Zeltweg -Copyright: Photograph by Geoffrey Lee, Planefocus Ltd

As we have reported earlier that Indonesia Wants To Acquire Austria’s Entire Eurofighter Typhoons Fighter Jet Fleet.

Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto has written to his Austrian counterpart, Klaudia Tanner, expressing an interest in acquiring Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighter aircraft from the latter. The Austrian Air Force operates a fleet of 15 Typhoons, which achieved operational capability in mid-2008.

Following the suggestion by Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto that the country buy second-hand Eurofighter medium weight fighter jets from Austria, the suggestion has been slammed by lawmakers ass a deviation from the original plan of purchasing 11 Su-35 heavyweight jets.

The Indonesian Air Force currently deploys Su-27 and Su-30 fighters which make up the backbone of the country’s fleet, and the Su-35 shares considerable similarities with these older jets but technologically is two decades ahead of them.

This allows the Su-35 to use the same weapons and much of the same maintenance infrastructure, reducing the maintenance burden on the Air Force, while also ensuring a high level of interoperability with existing fighters.

The Su-35 would provide Indonesia with what would widely be considered the most capable fighters in Southeast Asia, balancing the deployment of lighter F-35 jets by neighboring Australia and Singapore and providing an effective counter to Chinese J-15 carrier-based fighters amid ongoing maritime disputes with Beijing.

Indonesia has long been wary of over reliance on Western technology for its Air Force, with a U.S. arms embargo imposed in the 1990s amid high tensions with Australia effectively neutralising the country’s fleet and providing its Western neighbour with a considerable advantage.

The Indonesian Air Force would afterwards increasingly rely on Russian aircraft, with Moscow having no comparable history of imposing similar embargoes on its defence clients.

The United States has threatened economic sanctions against Indonesia should it go ahead with plans to purchase the Su-35, which has embolden pro-Western figures in the country’s defense establishment to push for a phasing out of Russian aircraft and revert to full reliance on American and European aircraft.

Signals from the country have been very mixed regarding whether it will proceed with the Su-35 purchase, reflecting a degree of conflict within the military and political leadership, with the military previously pledging that it would not bow to American threats and would go ahead with the Su-35 purchase.

Purchasing the Eurofighter instead of the Su-35 is a particularly controversial move given the jet’s price and capabilities. The fighter’s cost effectiveness is considered to be one of the lowest in the world, with new aircraft costly over 70% more per unit than the F-35A stealth fighter despite a massive discrepancy in sophistication favouring the F-35.

Other than a very small sale of jets to Austria, the fighters have failed to gain any contracts for export outside the Persian Gulf region, in which political ties between oil-rich Arab states and Britain, in particular, are thought to have played a major role. Even in the Gulf, however, corruption scandals have surrounded Eurofighter purchases.

Aside from the difficulties of integrating European fighters alongside existing Russian, South Korean and American jets, comparing the second hand Eurofghter jets with the Su-35 shows an overwhelming advantage in favour of the latter from manoeuvrability and payload to endurance, and situational awareness.

While the Su-35 makes use of a hybrid Irbis-E active-passive radar, Eurofighters Indonesia would purchase use much smaller passive radars which are both weaker and much easier to jam.

Relying on the Eurofighter would leave the Indonesian Air Force at a huge qualitative disadvantage not only against its neighbours’ F-35s, but also against Australian F-18E Super Hornets, Singaporean F-15SGs and most Chinese naval fighters.

Russia has also offered to accept payment for the Su-35 under a barter trading system in exchange for raw materials and to modify the fighter for the specific needs of the Indonesian Air Force.

It remains to be seen whether Indonesia will proceed with the Eurofighter purchase, which continues to face stringent opposition domestically, but doing so will almost certainly represent a significant erosion both of the country’s international standing, after curbing quite quickly to threats of Western sanctions, and to its security situation as it is increasingly forced to look exclusively to the West for arms.

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