The United States has rejected an Indonesian proposal to purchase F-35 jets and instead wants Jakarta to buy F-16V Block 72 aircraft or another equivalent American-built fighter such as Super Hornet Block III.
The US decision was communicated when Defense 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 jets such as the F-16V or Super Hornet, 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 4.5th generation fighters, we have to have the F-16 block 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 4.5 generation F/A-18E/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, India, Germany 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 and rejected the Russian Su-35 under pressure from Washington.
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 which favors Indonesia.
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.
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