Novan Iman Santosa, Jakarta – Surprises in Indonesian defense procurement seem like a constant feature now.
After initial clearance from the United States State Department to buy an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, news broke that Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto intended to buy jet fighters from Austria.
Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported on Sunday that Prabowo had sent a letter to his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner offering to buy the country's 15 Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters.
The letter was dated July 10 and arrived at the Austrian Defense Ministry late last week, Die Presse reported.
The Austrian Defense Ministry, however, declined to comment on the offer, the newspaper said.
"As I was always impressed by European technologies and know-how, I would kindly ask your support for the following proposal, which hopefully leads to a mutual benefit for our two countries," Prabowo said in a letter circulated among various media WhatsApp groups on Monday morning.
There has been no official confirmation from the Defense Ministry on the authenticity of the letter, though it is consistent with Die Presse's report.
Prabowo was referring to information he received from someone named WD Grosse that Austria had acquired 15 Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters in 2002.
"To achieve my target of modernizing the Indonesian Air Force, I would, therefore, like to propose to enter into official deliberation with you, your Excellency, on purchasing all 15 Eurofighter Typhoons from Austria for the Air Force of the Republic of Indonesia," Prabowo said.
Prabowo said he was fully aware of the sensitivity of Typhoons in Austria, which has been in a legal fight with European defense and aerospace giant Airbus over alleged overpricing.
Austria bought the 15 Typhoons in 2002 in a contract worth 2 billion euro (US$2.28 billion) and has filed a lawsuit to recoup 1.1 billion euro against Airbus.
Airbus is leading the Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH consortium in manufacturing Typhoons in cooperation with other European defense firms, British BAE System and Italian Leonardo.
The consortium has four assembly lines in Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom as the four original users of Typhoon.
Die Presse, however, said that selling Typhoons to Indonesia would be complicated, as it needed approval from the four countries.
However, as the consortium did come to Indonesia for a roadshow in April 2015 offering the Typhoon, observers say it may not be that difficult to secure that approval.
During the roadshow, in which the consortium brought a full-scale replica to state-owned aircraft maker PT Dirgantara Indonesia's plant in Bandung, West Java, the consortium offered to move an assembly line from Spain to Bandung should Indonesia decide to procure the Typhoons.
Austria's Typhoons are from Tranche 1, a marker for basic operational capabilities, which focuses more on air-defense missions, while the consortium has offered upgrades to Tranches 2 and 3, which greatly improves the fighters' ground attack capabilities.
Earlier this year, news broke that Indonesia would buy Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft from France following Prabowo's visit to the country in January.
French newspaper La Tribune reported that Indonesia was interested in procuring 48 Rafale jet fighters, in addition to two Scorpene submarines and two Gowind corvettes.
Both the Typhoon and Dassault Rafale (which translates to "gust of wind") actually began as projects among the aforementioned European countries to build a common jet fighter in the late 1970s, before France decided to develop one on its own in 1985 due to differences in technical requirements – including whether a jet fighter should be carrier-capable.
Currently, there are three major Rafale versions. The French Air Force uses the single-seater Rafale C and double-seater Rafale B, and the French Navy uses the Rafale M, which is carrier-capable.
Meanwhile, Indonesia has yet to move forward with its $1.1 billion contract to buy 11 Su-35 Flanker-E "Super Flankers" from Russia due to financial complications and the possibility of facing sanctions from the United States through the latter's Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Although President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has instructed Prabowo to put a lid on all foreign procurement, local defense companies do not have the capabilities to produce a jet fighter just yet.
Indonesia is currently working to make its own jet fighters by securing a 20 percent share in South Korean's KF-X program, which Indonesia joined in 2010.
Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is working with PT DI to design and manufacture the jet fighter, in which Indonesia is projected to buy 48 aircraft while South Korea is slated to buy 120.
The KF-X jet fighter will have its first roll out in 2022 and the first flight is scheduled in 2022, The Korea Herald reported on July 8.
The Herald reported that there will be six prototypes and one will be delivered to Indonesia.
"The first batch of mass-produced KF-X aircraft is expected between 2026 and 2028. They will be equipped with limited air-to-ground weapons in addition to air-to-air weapons," the Korean newspaper reported.