Indonesia Reports US Pressure to Cancel Purchase of Russian Su-35 Fighters

Will go ahead anyway

Having concluded negotiations to acquire Russian Su-35 air superiority fighters in February 2018, the Indonesian Air Force is set to field the most capable combat jets in Southeast Asia which will complement its existing fleet of Su-27 and Su-30 heavy fighters - older derivatives of the same airframe. Acquiring the aircraft though a barter trade scheme rather than through a direct purchase, Indonesia has nevertheless reportedly come under pressure from the United States which has sought to derail its growing cooperation in the military economic spheres with Moscow.

The international trade director general of the Indonesian Trade Ministry, Oke Nurwan, while noting that a barter trade scheme could if successful become an effective model for the country’s future trade relations, stated regarding Washington’s stance: “While we are in the process of the barter trade with Russia, the U.S. is trying to intervene.” He nevertheless added that the contract with Russia would continue as planned regardless of the position of the United States.

Indonesia’s acquisition of Su-35 jets has been seen highly unfavourably by the United States and much of the Western Bloc for a number of reasons. A barter trade deal threatens to undermine the Southeast Asian state’s reliance on the U.S. dollar in making international transactions, and should this become an effective model for trade for the country and possibly even its resource rich neighbours it could well seriously undermine America’s economic position in the region.

Secondly, the deal undermines Western efforts to strangle the Russian defence sector through economic sanctions - which has seen countries across the world from South America to South Asia and the Middle East put under considerable pressure not to acquire Russian weapons. Thirdly, the deal undermines the position of neighbouring Australia, a close U.S. ally which has long sought a military technological advantage over its larger Southeast Asian neighbour, in a way Western provided arms never could.

Indonesia’s original interest in Russian air superiority fighters based on the Flanker airframe came in the 1990s as a result of a U.S. arms embargo, imposed at a time of conflict with neighbouring Australia over East Timor, which blocked the sale of parts for the Indonesian F-16 fleet and thus allowed Washington to ensure than Australian jets had effectively undisputed air superiority.

Not only was the Western Bloc unwilling to sell Jakarta its most capable air superiority fighters, but it was also proved to be a highly unreliable partner. Jakarta would thus cease to purchase Western fighters for its fleet, and has since relied on Russian made air superiority fighters - of which the Su-35 is the latest and most sophisticated.

With a relatively small defence budget, and disproportionately small funds allocated to new acquisitions, new fighters have been acquired gradually and in very small packages. The Su-35 threatens to upset the balance of power which has long favoured Washington’s two closest regional partners, Singapore and Australia, and though orders for just eleven of the new jets have been placed a number of followup orders are expected. 

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