Indonesia on Thursday ordered 42 Dassault Rafale fighter jets from France and may acquire two French submarines, while the US approved Jakarta’s potential purchase of 36 Boeing-made McDonnell Douglas F-15s in the face of growing Asia-Pacific tensions.
Indonesia’s first order for French warplanes comes as Jakarta replaces an ageing fleet – consisting mainly of US-made General Dynamics F-16s and Russian jets made by Sukhoi – now part of United Aircraft Corporation – as concerns grow about rising US-China tensions.
The Rafale agreement was announced as Indonesian Defence minister Prabowo Subianto met his French counterpart Florence Parly in Jakarta.
Prabowo confirmed that a deal had been struck for the purchase of the jets, with a contract signed on Thursday relating to the first six. France’s defence ministry said the contract for the 42 aircraft and their weapons was worth 7.1 billion euros ($8.1 billion).
France said the two countries also signed a letter of intent for research and development with a view to Indonesia ordering two Scorpène submarines.
F-15 Deal Worth $14bn
Meanwhile, the US Department of State said it had approved the potential F-15s sale along with other assorted military equipment for an estimated $14 billion.
The proposed sale will improve “the security of an important regional partner that is a force for political stability, and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region,” the department said, adding that it “will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.
It did not mention China, whose rise Washington is seeking to counter in the region, and gave no indication when the sale could be concluded.
The Rafale deal is the latest sign of warming ties between Jakarta and Paris, as France rethinks its alliances in the region following the collapse in September of a multibillion-dollar Australian submarine deal.
Paris was left furious by the debacle, saying it had been given no warning that Canberra was negotiating a new defence pact with the US and Britain.
Australia is now obtaining nuclear-powered submarines as part of the new defence alliance, named AUKUS, which brings together Canberra, Washington and London to counter a rising China.
French president Emmanuel Macron welcomed Indonesia’s decision to choose “French industrial excellence”, writing on Twitter that the Rafale deal would “strengthen our partnerships”.
In November, France and Indonesia strengthened a strategic partnership agreement during a two-day visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to the vast Southeast Asian archipelago.
The president of ship and submarine manufacturer Naval Group, Pierre-Eric Pommellet, accompanied Parly in Jakarta and signed a memorandum of understanding with Indonesia’s state-owned shipbuilder PT PAL, according to a source within the French company.
The agreement included technology transfer, but “everything remains up for negotiation” regarding the Scorpène submarines, the source added.
The Scorpène class are conventional diesel-electric attack submarines. They are capable of carrying 18 torpedoes and Exocet anti-ship missiles and navigating to a depth of 350 metres (1,148 feet), according to Naval Group.
Indonesia is also participating in a South Korean programme to develop a warplane.
- AFP, with additional editing by George Russell