Jakarta's French jet deal unrelated to KF-X, DAPA insists
Indonesia’s plan to buy dozens of fighter aircraft from France and the United States is unrelated to its joint venture with Korea to develop an indigenous fighter jet, Seoul’s arms procurement agency said on Sunday.
The statement from Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) was issued as foreign news reports suggested that Jakarta may pull out altogether from the Korea Fighter Experimental (KF-X) project, an 8.5 trillion won ($7.8 billion) undertaking of which 1.6 trillion won – or 20 percent – is to be paid by Indonesia.
Jakarta’s impatience with the slow pace of the venture has been reported by the Indonesian press, and the possibility of its withdrawal from the project was highlighted Thursday when Indonesia’s air force chief announced the country will buy 36 Dassault Rafale from France and eight F-15EX jets from U.S. arms maker Boeing.
According to local press reports, Jakarta also plans to purchase C-130 military transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin, as well as modernize its existing combat aircraft fleet in line with growing security needs.
Responding to the announcement, DAPA stressed the F-15EX and Rafale jet purchase plan seemed to be part of the Indonesian Air Force’s efforts to plug gaps in its defense capabilities, noting it was a “separate matter” from the ongoing KF-X development project.
“Indonesia has consistently expressed its commitment to partaking in the KF-X project, and our two countries are continuing negotiations towards a direction of mutual interest through multiple working-level consultations,” read an agency press release.
The KF-X project, aimed at building Korea’s first domestically developed fighter jet, has been called the most expensive military project in Korean history.
Led by Korea’s sole military aircraft manufacturer, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the project aims to produce 125 jets for Korea and 51 jets for Indonesia by 2026. Currently a prototype is being assembled, while a maiden flight for the plane is scheduled for next year.
Yet the project’s protracted timetable prompted Jakarta to consider other options in meeting its military aircraft needs, fueled by the country’s rapidly growing security anxieties over China’s bid to exert control over the South China Sea.
With Covid-19 further hampering development and stressing budgets, Indonesia recently reeled back its financial commitments to the joint venture.
DAPA records submitted to the National Assembly last week showed Indonesia has only paid 227.2 billion won out of the 831.6 billion won it promised for this year. The payment delivered by Jakarta so far only covers around 13 percent of its total commitment.
In addition to the withheld payments, Indonesia has still not sent back the 114 technical specialists from its aerospace firm PT Dirgantara Indonesia, who were repatriated in March due to outbreaks of the coronavirus in Korea.
Though faced with the risk Seoul may be forced to assume all development costs should Jakarta pull out, DAPA Minister Kang Eun-ho earlier this month assured reporters talks between the two countries remained underway, and that the project’s funding status would be make public “in due time.”
In spite of DAPA’s argument that the F-15EX and Rafale jet purchases will not affect Indonesia’s obligations to the KF-X project, defense industry and military sources in Seoul fear otherwise.
France reportedly offered a larger transfer of fighter jet technologies as part of a larger package on the Rafale jets, which sources say may have been too enticing an offer for Jakarta to overlook, particularly in light of concerns that Korea’s military ties to the United States were hampering jet technology transfers with regards to the KF-X project.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [email@example.com]