Jakarta. Lawmakers are not particularly impressed with the United States offer of 24 secondhand F-16 fighters, which would more than double the current Air Force fleet of 10 F-16s.
The Defense Ministry said last week that Washington had offered Indonesia the aircraft as a gift, and Armed Forces (TNI) chief Adm. Agus Suhartono indicated interest in the proposal.
But on Friday, Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the government would review the offer before making a decision.
Lawmakers agree, saying the jets should first be checked to make sure they are not junk.
“They should not only look at the quantity of the jets being offered, but also the quality,” said Mahfudz Siddiq, chairman of House Commission I, which oversees foreign and security affairs.
Teguh Juwarno, another Commission I member, from the National Mandate Party (PAN), said Indonesia should learn from the foreign gift of a secondhand submarine. “Even after fixing it, it failed to operate to its maximum capacity,” he said.
Even if the F-16 jets are considered worth taking, they may turn out to be more expensive to repair and operate in the long run than buying new fighters.
“Most of us in the House Commission I believe the TNI should buy new jets and equipment rather than accept used ones,” Mahfudz said.
Commission I Deputy Chairman TB Hasanuddin, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), agreed that buying a few new jets could prove more cost-effective than maintaining many used ones.
He said not only would the F-16s have to undergo retrofits, but the maintenance cost for old planes would be higher.
Based on the Defense Ministry’s Strategic Plan presented to the commission, Mahfudz said both had agreed that the military should embrace the spirit of “modernization of weaponry” and not buy used military hardware.
Aside from the new-versus-used debate, House Deputy Speaker Anis Matta, from the Prosperous Justic Party (PKS), questioned why the TNI needed more fighter jets in the first place.
The military now has seven F-16A and three F-16B aircraft.
“The TNI does not need fighter jets, but rather an aircraft carrier for humanitarian missions, to help carry supplies for disaster victims,” he said on Friday.
“The TNI should be more selective and choose something more important, especially considering Indonesia has been struck by disasters lately.”
But Anis said he understood the TNI chief’s interest in the offer, which he said was largely due to his efforts to strengthen ties with the United States.
“I saw the TNI chief’s response in the context of improving relations between the two countries,” Anis said.
During Obama’s homecoming visit last week, Indonesia and the United States launched the Comprehensive Partnership, which represents a commitment to boost cooperation in several sectors, including military ties.
On Thursday, military chief Agus said that although the aircraft were secondhand, their frames were sound and they could be restored.
“We could turn them into brand new fighter jets if we upgraded their engines and combat capabilities,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry on Friday said it would accept a grant from Australia of C-130 Hercules military cargo planes. The Air Force now has 21 of the craft in its arsenal.
The ministry also has announced a deal to buy eight Super Tucano training and attack aircraft from Brazilian aviation firm Embraer.