French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly announced on Twitter on February 10, 2022, that Indonesia had ordered 42 Rafale jet fighters from France. In addition, two Scorpene submarines made in France were identified.
“The French Government is proud to contribute to the modernization of the armed forces of our partner, which plays a key role within ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific,” she wrote on her Twitter account.
Earlier in the day, the Indonesian defense ministry announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement with the French company Dassault to purchase 6 Rafale fighter aircraft. There was no mention of another 36 Rafale fighter jets and two Scorpene submarines in the statement. It is possible that 42 fighter jets could become part of a long-term contract in the future.
In addition to purchasing six fighter jets and two submarines, Indonesia’s state-owned shipbuilder company PT PAL also signed an agreement with a French company Naval to establish a joint research and development center for submarines.
“PT PAL will build the Scorpene submarine and it is the result of transfer of technology and the implementation of research and development with Naval Group,” PT PAL spokeswoman Yusi Nisa told Indonesia Business Post.
PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), an Indonesian aircraft maker, signed another agreement with the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault to repair and overhaul French aircraft in Indonesia. As PTDI General Manager Kerry Apriawan explained, the company did not know what technology Dassault would transfer to PTDI.
“If the defense ministry buys Rafale, Indonesia should produce some part of Rafale as stipulated by the law. But we do not know which parts they will make in Indonesia,” he said.
Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, an expert on defense policy, hoped that the national industry would benefit from the transfer of technology. It is the first time Indonesia has purchased fighter jets in such a large number. In her opinion, the Rafale has the same level of air superiority as the F-15 and is a better aircraft.
“I hope Indonesia gets the licenses as well so that the six Rafael fighter jets will be built in France, 10 will be assembled by Dassault, but the remaining 20 will be made here by PTDI. So next time, if Indonesia needs it, Indonesia can make Rafale fighter jets on its own,” she said.
However, Nikolaus Loy, a lecturer at the School of International Relations of the UPN University in Yogyakarta, said that Indonesia should not place too high a hope on technology transfer from France to Indonesia. All countries are keen to preserve their technological superiority in the defense or weapons industry.
“So do not imagine that they will teach us how to manufacture the machine in the process of the transfer of technology,” he stated, adding that the French company may transfer its know-how on control systems or another fighter jet system.
Closer to Western bloc?
Bakrie said the purchase of French jet fighters by Indonesia was evidence of the country’s support of the US and the trilateral AUKUS of Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. By aligning its weapons system with the US and NATO, Indonesia supports the US block alliance in opposition to China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea issues.
“So we are clearly showing that in terms of foreign policy, we support the US and NATO policy by purchasing both F16 and Rafale aircraft, ” she added.
As Bakrie pointed out, Indonesia should keep its non-alignment position so that Indonesia can exercise a strategy that can safeguard the national interest. It is pertinent to recognize: If Indonesia joins the Western alliance, Indonesia can only be considered a bandwagon because it is following what has been dictated to it by the US and Western countries.
As Indonesia’s largest trading partner and investor, China will also question Indonesia’s non-alignment position. As she put it: “Our position regarding the South China Sea issue will be examined”.
According to Loy, Indonesia has a hedging strategy that allows it to anticipate future risks by taking hedging decisions. Although Indonesia is getting closer to China, it is also sending a strong message to China that it will never compromise on the matters of national sovereignty and autonomy. Indonesia says it will not compromise.
“Let us cooperate on the economy without intervening militarily or politically in domestic affairs. We can trade, but if you disrupt my territory, I will use this weapon, and I have this alliance,” Loy said, adding that Indonesia has bought weapons from other Western nations like Italy and the US.
He stated that Indonesia and most ASEAN countries saw China from a dualistic perspective. Aside from this equation is their view of China as a potential economic partner based on the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement. On the other hand, they perceive China as a threat because of its actions concerning the South China Sea issue.
ASEAN believes that the Chinese have an expansionist intention in the South China Sea. Therefore, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries think they need to create a balance of power in the region. It does not mean they can win against China’s mighty military force, but at least China suffers a considerable loss.