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Indonesia yet to withdraw Su-35 purchase, Russia awaits a letter

Bulgarian Military - April 5, 2024

Boyko Nikolov – At present, Indonesia is grappling with a multitude of other defense deals, such as Scorpene, Rafale, Black Hawk, and PPA Korvette, among others. As a result, the acquisition of Su-35 from Russia has taken a back seat.

Nevertheless, the standing agreement for Indonesia's purchase of Russian Su-35s remains in place. The Russian authorities have confirmed that they have not received any official communication from Indonesia terminating the Su-35 deal. As such, Indonesia has the liberty to proceed with the Su-35 contract without any specific deadline constraints.

As per earlier reports by BulgarianMilitary.com, the complication stems from the impending threat of the CAATSA. This is a hurdle that Indonesia would rather avoid, as the CAATSA could potentially place Indonesia under US-imposed sanctions, which could derail its international relations. These sanctions could halt the US's trade and defense equipment supply to Indonesia.

Ironically, it is the defense gear from the US that Indonesia desperately needs for its military modernization. Without it, efforts to modernize Indonesia's military could falter. Defense and security experts in Indonesia predominantly endorse Western defense equipment technology. There's a prevalent perception that Western defense gear offers superior technology, has been battle-tested, and features long-term durability.

Russian equipment is expensive to maintain

Indeed, while the initial investment in Western-made defense equipment might seem substantial for Indonesia, it effectively becomes more affordable when you factor in the cost of spare parts, upkeep, and operations.

Conversely, when it comes to Russian equipment, it may initially appear as a bargain, but in the long run, it proves to be a premium. The ongoing expenses related to maintenance, upgrades, and operational costs can quickly accumulate. Take the Indonesian Su-30 as an example – flying this machine costs a hefty $18,000 for each hour in the air.

Also, consider this: every 1,500 flight hours, the Su-30 requires repair work, with costs rising to almost $27 million a pop. In comparison, the cost of modernizing and maintaining the Indonesian F-16 only rounds up to just over $19 million for each unit.

Su-35 more expensive than F-16

At an hourly flight cost of $30,000, the Su-35 affectionately referred to as the Super Flanker, is often pricier when compared to the F-15 Eagle II, which flies at a rate of $24,000 per hour. Surprisingly, the per-unit cost for the F-15 Eagle II can reach a staggering $101 million. This may seem extravagantly expensive when compared to the Su-35's price tag of around $69.4 million per unit.

The Indonesian audience frequently overlooks these figures, often perceiving the Su-35 as a more cost-effective alternative to its Western counterparts. The probable explanation for the inflated operating costs of the Su-35 is the scantiness of operational units worldwide. This paucity prompts Russia to bear higher production costs for spare parts, catering to this limited batch of Su-35s.

On the other hand, the F-16's extensive global presence, tallying in the thousands, leads to more affordable bulk production and spare part costs. Even the most advanced variant of it, the F-16 Viper, is similar in price to the Su-35 or may even cost less.

It is considered that...

Nevertheless, there's buzz indicating that Indonesia is still assessing potential methods to navigate the looming threat of CAATSA sanctions. The goal is to ensure a continued acquisition of Su-35s.

According to MWM magazine, as of July last year, "There are strong speculations that Indonesia is actively seeking alternative methods to purchase the Su-35 or perhaps other sophisticated fighter jets from Russia. Once they manage to bypass the hurdles of the US CAATSA sanctions and successfully negotiate payment terms with Russia, we could see more purchases." However, as highlighted earlier, Indonesia currently lacks the resources to strategize the reorder process for the Su-35 jets.

CAATSA vs Su-35

The Indonesian Ministry of Defense made headlines in February 2018 when it unveiled plans to purchase 11 Russian Su-35 heavy fighter jets, a deal priced at $1.1 billion. Deliveries were expected to commence by the end of 2019, and there was substantial talk of making further acquisitions.

Despite the buzz it created, the agreement was abruptly halted by the extended arm of the United States government. Relying on the robust Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act [CAATSA], the US successfully stalled and eventually axed the entire deal. Essentially, CAATSA utilizes the US's pivotal position within the global financial sphere to squeeze global arms sales. This is done by threatening any buyer involved in a major Russian arms deal with an economic onslaught.

The potency of CAATSA was first felt in September 2018. China made a hefty order for Russian Su-35 and S-400 air defense systems in 2015, totaling a whopping $4 billion. However, they soon found themselves in the crosshairs of this new age of economic warfare.

How did the Su-35 lose?

On February 10-11, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense invested a staggering $22 billion in advanced Western fighter jets, marking two significant contracts in less than 24 hours. The first contract involved an $8.1 billion exchange for 42 Rafale light combat aircraft from France, while the flagship transaction was a $13.9 billion deal for 36 F-15 Eagle heavy fighter jets, provided by the United States.

At present, the Indonesian Air Force hosts 49 fighter jets across four squadrons. This implies that the new arsenal of 78 aircraft will not only replace every single fighter jet currently in service but also significantly expand the country's fleet with the addition of new squadrons. The existing fleet, comprised of 33 F-16 and F-5 light fighters, will likely make way for the newly acquired Rafales, while the elite 16 Russian Su-27/30 heavy-lift fighters are expected to step down for the new F-15s.

What stands out about Indonesia's recent acquisitions is not just the magnitude of the investment – an impressive $22 billion. This is an astronomical figure even by the standards of larger arms importers like Saudi Arabia and Japan. It also signifies a clear upscaling of defense spending. Concurrently, these transactions highlight the successful strategies of America in broadening the market reach of Western arms, capitalizing on the potential of economic sanctions.

Source: https://bulgarianmilitary.com/2024/04/05/indonesia-yet-to-withdraw-su-35-purchase-russia-awaits-a-letter