The Southeast Asian country is the latest customer for Russia’s 4++ generation fighter in another boost for United Aircraft Corporation‘s brand after the successful MAKS air show in July. Talks prior the arms deal were ongoing as far back as 2015. At the time it was only speculated that Indonesia was buying a small batch.
In June 2017 Tass reported that 10 Su-35 Flanker-E’s were on the table. But the correct number is 11. The value of the jets was never revealed but the total amount paid to the Russians could swing between $600 million and $1 billion, depending on what subsystems the Indonesian Su-35’s will carry.
It must be understood the Su-35 is neither stealth capable nor is it on par with the US’ vaunted F-22 Raptor. But it does represent an export ready upgrade of the successful Su-27 Flanker, which went on to enjoy huge success in Asia.
The Flanker is the basis for the Chinese Shenyang J-11 and J-15 and Beijing paid for two dozen complete Su-35’s in 2015. A heavily modified Flanker variant, the Su-30MKI, is flown in large numbers by India’s air force. Combining the available numbers of Flanker and Flanker derivatives in both countries reaches 700 aircraft total. That’s aside from the estimated 400 third and fourth-generation Sukhois of the Russian air force.
The Su-35 is powered by two Saturn turbofan engines and capable of Mach 2.3 speeds. It’s one of the best models in its class–twin engine multirole fighters–and can be equipped for different missions. The Russian military’s Syrian expedition from 2015 onward featured a relentless air campaign that marked the Su-35’s combat debut.
Indonesia’s willingness to buy Russia’s most advanced multirole fighter shouldn’t be construed as the beginnings of an alliance. It’s more a case of rekindled patronage since Sukhois joined the Indonesian air force’s fleet in the 2000s after its F-16’s withered due to US sanctions.
The sale of Su-35’s is seen as a modernization initiative to bolster its available Russian Sukhoi fighters (there are seven of them) and plug the gap left by retiring Northrop F-5 Tigers.
Indonesia’s sourcing for its military equipment is very diverse. Since the domestic arms industry is nowhere near as developed as other regional economies, importing is the best option and the largest beneficiary so far is South Korea. This explains why relations with Jakarta and Seoul have flourished in recent years. In 2011 a deal was signed for three 1,400 ton diesel-electric submarines and the first order arrived this August.
Indonesia is also a customer for the FA-50 attack jet and it isn’t surprising to learn more cooperation with South Korea is in the works.
It could take three to four years before the 11 new Su-35’s reach Indonesia’s air force. The regional implications aren’t very serious, to be honest, and Indonesia needs long-range assets for protecting its vast frontiers anyway. Besides, among the ASEAN states tiny Singapore still has the monopoly in air power with its Falcons and Eagles.