The United States has rejected an Indonesian proposal to purchase F-35 jets and instead wants Jakarta to buy F-16 Block 72 aircraft or another equivalent American-built fighter.
Jakarta’s insistence on the F-35 may be a ploy for Washington to reject the proposal so that Jakarta may proceed with the Sukhoi Su-35 procurement for which a deal has already been signed in 2018.- Ed comment
The US decision was communicated when Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto visited Washington on October 15, 2020. Prabowo was told that the F-35 has a waiting list of nine years and in the interim period it should acquire 4.5 generation jet such as the F-16s; according to the Indonesian Ambassador to the US, Muhammad Lutfi who briefed Indonesian media about bilateral discussions during Subianto’s US visit.
Speaking during a virtual press conference on November 2, Lutfi has been quoted as saying by CNN Indonesia "So there are platforms we have to work on to get this F-35. We have to have the 4th generation and the 4.5th generation, we have to have the F-16 block c 72 fighters this is the latest fighter before we get the F-35."
In a discussion held when Prabowo Subianto visited the US, Indonesia was offered “another fighter aircraft equivalent to the fourth generation F series,” the ambassador said.
The “equivalent fighter” jet to the F-16 could only be the F/A-18 Super Hornet of Boeing which the US company has been trying to find a market in other Asian countries such as India and is a contender for fighter replacement programs in Finland and Switzerland.
Indonesian Deputy Defense Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono has earlier said that the Defense Ministry under Prabowo's leadership began targeting US-made F-35 fighter jets as an alternative to the Russian Su-35 which has been reportedly abandoned due to pressure from Washington.
However, now with fresh political winds blowing in Washington and the Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CATSAA) not imposed anywhere in the world, Jakarta may be emboldened to re-kindle its Su-35 sale. The price of which at half of that of the F-35, that too with a significant barter trade option thrown in, may be hard to resist.
Russian sources have steadfastly maintained that the Su-35 deal is on track; even rejecting a 2019 Bloomberg report that the Su-35 deal had been abandoned as the US threatened Jakarta with CATSAA. Under this controversial US law, sanctions may be imposed on countries that have significant defence trade relations with Moscow.
Indonesia may be worried that if it plays its fighter jet card the wrong way, it may jeopardize its lucrative trade with the US. According to data from the US Trade Representative, Indonesia imported goods worth $7.7 billion from the US while exports to the US totaled $20.1 billion in 2019. The US goods trade deficit with Indonesia was $12.4 billion in 2019.
The Trump administration has been elbowing countries, which have significant trade deficit with the US, to make up the difference by buying American weapons like it did with Japan which ordered over 100 F-35 jets.