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Jakarta to buy Russian Sukhoi fighters, helicopters

Agence France Presse - August 5, 1997

Bhimanto Suwastoyo, Jakarta – Indonesia Tuesday brushed aside US criticism of its human rights record and said it would buy Russian fighter jets after cancelling an order for American aircraft.

Officials decided to buy 12 Sukhoi-30K fighter jets and eight M- 17-1V helicopters from Russia for use by the military, National Development Planning Minister Ginanjar Kartasasmita said.

Jakarta cancelled an order for nine US-made F-16 fighters following criticism in Washington of Indonesia's elections and human rights record in June.

Negotiations with Russia on the deal over price, payment methods, technology transfer and spare parts guarantees were on track and a Russian team was in Jakarta for talks, Ginanjar said.

Completion of the deal depended on an agreement on the price and counter-purchase commitments, he added.

In return for the aircraft purchases, Russia would be expected to buy Indonesian commodities including palm oil, coffee and rubber.

Jakarta would expect the planes to be delivered within three years and the helicopters within two years, Ginanjar said.

Indonesia cancelled its purchase of nine F-16 fighters after what it called "wholly unjustified criticisms" in the US Congress.

It also withdrew from the US Expanded International Military Education and Training Program, saying it objected to US criticism of the country's human rights conditions, particularly in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. The US also angered Jakarta by questioning the fairness of May legislative elections.

The fighter jets would be based in Ujung Pandang, South Sulawesi province, primarily to Indonesia's strategic Natuna gas fields in the South China Sea, said Vice Air Marshal Richard Haryono, the assistant on planning to the air force chief.

Haryono said Russia was asking for 34 million dollars for each jet but the price had yet to be negotiated.

He added the sale agreement would include the sending of about 20 Indonesian personnel for training in Russia for up to eight months. Haryono said the Sukhoi-30K, with a range of 3,000 kilometres (1,860 miles) without refuelling and the possibility of on-air refuelling with a Hercules tanker plane, could quickly reach every corner of the far-flung archipelago.

The helicopters would be capable of transporting 30 troops or one tactical vehicle or ambulance.

However, Research and Technology Minister Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie criticised the purchase plan, saying the fighters were not as effective as US or European models or even other aircraft manufactured in Russia.

Sukhois had a number of weaknesses in direct comparison with their competitors, including the Russian-made Mig, which he dubbed more "agile" and "more superior."

Speaking after meeting Indonesian President Suharto, Habibie said Sukhois had shorter lifespans than their counterparts from the United States and Europe and shorter periods between overhauls.

Its long flight range necessitated large fuel tanks which mades the aircraft bulky and "less maneuverable" than short range fighters such as the Migs, he added.

The offer of Russian-made equipment and weaponry was first made by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Indonesian President Suharto through a special envoy, Ginanjar said.

Suharto later sent a team of experts to Russia to study the weapons, he added.