The Buzz

This Asian Power Just Bought Russia's Lethal Su-35 (and It's Not China)

Indonesia hopes to sign a deal with Russia to purchase ten advanced Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters next month.

The powerful Russian-built air superiority fighter would replace Jakarta’s current fleet of American-built Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighters. The Su-35s will join Jakarta’s existing fleet of sixteen older Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 Flankers—of which Indonesia operates several variants despite its small fleet.

“I will go to Russia in March to sign off the contract,” Indonesian defense minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with a Russian Security Council delegation in Jakarta, according to Defense Other local Indonesian media corroborate the report.

Ryamizard said that Indonesia would purchase a maximum of ten Su-35s. However, the actual number acquired could be as low as eight, according to the Indonesian daily Tempo. Initially, the country had wanted as many as sixteen of the advanced Russian fighters.

Ryamizard said that the small purchase would allow Jakarta to buy a more sophisticated aircraft if one became available later. “If brand new technology comes to surface, we can update (the fighter jets),” he said.

Even though the quantities are small, the sale looks to be the Su-35’s first export success outside of China—opening the door for other nations to follow. While Indonesia’s decision to purchase the Su-35 may be welcome news in Moscow, Jakarta is not turning its back on Washington. Ryamizard pointed out that Indonesia operates a fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and other European-built hardware. “We have F-16s from the U.S. We have many war vessels from Europe too,” Ryamizard told the Jakarta Post. “We also engage in many other forms of defense cooperation with the U.S. We don’t favor any one country.”

Jakarta, nonetheless, is consciously diversifying its supplier base—no doubt mindful of U.S. sanctions which had hobbled its forces in previous years. “Commitment to strengthen defense cooperation with Russia and the procurement plan is the way for Indonesia to show the world that it is a neutral country in terms of defense cooperation,” Ryamizard said.

There remains a possibility that Jakarta will upgrade its F-16A/B fleet, which means there might still be an opportunity for Lockheed Martin in the very near future.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Dmitry Avdeev.