The Biden administration today approved a $13.9 billion arms sale to Indonesia, in a bid to stiffen the country’s ability to hold the line against recent Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the deal during a trip to Australia, part of a Pacific tour intended to underscore the U.S. commitment to the region amid the crisis over Ukraine. According to the Associated Press, the purchase will involve the sale to Indonesia of “up to 36 F-15 fighter jets, engines, and related equipment, including munitions and communications systems.”
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of an important regional partner that is a force for political stability, and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region,” the State Department said in a statement. It added, “It is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Indonesia in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability.”
While the U.S. statement characteristically avoided mentioning China by name, the announcement follows a trip to Jakarta by Blinken in mid-December, during which he criticized China for “claiming open seas [as] their own” and asserted “the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion and intimidation.”
The news of the U.S. arms deal came a day after France announced that it would sell Indonesia 42 French Rafale jet fighters for a total cost of $8.1 billion. The agreement was announced during a visit by French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly to Jakarta, and will, according to Reuters, make Jakarta the biggest French arms client in the region. Subianto confirmed a deal had been struck for the purchase of the planes, and that the two sides had signed a contract yesterday for the first six Rafale jets.
Both purchases point to Indonesia’s ambitious military modernization plans. A recently leaked government document outlined Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto’s plans to fortify the military with spending of around $125 billion on the military between now and 2044. The focus of this modernization drive is in fortifying Indonesia’s naval capacity, which is far short of what is required sufficiently to defend its far-flung archipelagic geography, and in developing the air power necessary to support it.
This week’s deals also reflect Indonesia’s promiscuous approach to procuring the necessary defense equipment. Last March, Indonesia signed its first bilateral defense agreement with Japan, paving the way for Japanese arms exports to Indonesia, including the potential sale of up to eight Mogami-class frigates. Then, in June, Indonesia signed a contract to purchase six new FREMM multipurpose frigates and two secondhand Maestrale-class frigates.
Since the tragic loss of KRI Nanggala last April, the Indonesian Navy has also indicated that it was seeking a threefold expansion of its submarine fleet, from the current four to 12 vessels, and is considering possible purchases from France, Russia, and Turkey. (The deals signed between Prabowo and Parly this week also included an agreement on submarine development.)
All of these deals reflect what Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto of the Australian National University described last year as Indonesia’s “pragmatic and even opportunistic arms procurement” strategy under Prabowo, who has established a “track record of pitting potential arms suppliers against each other in search of the best deal.”