Melbourne: In a surprise move, Indonesia has expressed interest in acquiring Austria’s fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.
Indonesia’s defence minister Prabowo Subianto wrote a letter to his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner seeking to initiate negotiations to buy all 15 Typhoons belonging to the Austrian Air Force.
In his letter published by Indonesian news outlets, Prabowo said the potential purchase will assist in his aims to continue modernising the Indonesian Air Force.
He said he understood the “sensitivity” of his proposal, which was likely to be a reference to the continued controversy surrounding Austria’s 2002 acquisition of the Typhoon. That purchase has been dogged by questions about cost and the effectiveness of the aircraft. More recently, there have been allegations of corruption related to the original contract award.
These culminated in Austria’s 2017 decision to retire the aircraft from service this year in favour of a “more effective and cost-effective” solution for the central European country’s air defence needs.
Indonesia’s interest in the fleet comes two weeks after the surprise announcement that the US State Department cleared the country to buy the Bell-Boeing MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.
Indonesia has been seeking a fighter aircraft to serve alongside its fleet of 23 refurbished early-block Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon jets. These are all former aircraft operated by the US Air National Guard, and were delivered from 2014 onward.
The decision to seek the Austrian Typhoons, which are all Tranche 1 aircraft configured primarily for air defence missions, is a blow to Russian aspirations to sell the Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker interceptor to Indonesia.
Indonesia had selected the Su-35 as its next fighter to provide continuity with its existing fleet of Su-27 and Su-30s Flankers acquired in the early part of the last decade. Negotiations for the Russian jets ended in 2018, but Indonesia had been reticent to sign the US$1.14 billion contract, reportedly over fears that it may be subject to American sanctions.
The sanctions would come from a US law countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, that targets Iran, North Korea and Russia. CAATSA was passed by Congress in 2017, and is meant to discourage governments or entities from acquiring weapons or military hardware and parts from US adversaries.