Indonesia – an archipelago of 17,000 islands – is modernising its military amid increasing maritime and regional challenges.
Indonesia is moving to upgrade its ageing airforce fleet with multi-billion dollar orders for advanced fighters jets from France and the United States, amid increasing tension i the Asia Pacific.
The agreement for 42 French Rafale fighters was announced as Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto met his French counterpart Florence Parly in Jakarta.
Subianto confirmed a deal had been struck for the purchase of the planes, with a contract signed on Thursday in relation to the first six.
France’s defence ministry said the contract for the 42 aircraft and their weapons was worth $8.1bn. Indonesia may also acquire two Scorpene diesel-electric attack submarines.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration also approved the $13.9bn sale of the F-15 advanced fighter jets, engines and related equipment, including munitions and communications systems to Indonesia.
The deal follows a mid-December trip to Jakarta by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who lauded close US-Indonesia ties despite human rights concerns that have delayed previous arms sales to the country.
“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 is vital to US national interests to assist Indonesia in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability,” it said.
The statement did not mention China, which has become increasingly assertive in the disputed South China Sea, and in the Pacific.
The US and other Western countries are buttressing alliances in the region as China’s influence grows, reviving informal groupings such as the Quad and deepening links with countries across the Asia Pacific, some of which are involved in maritime disputes with China.
The AUKUS security pact, under which Australia would acquire US nuclear-powered submarines, triggered anger in China, but also caused upset in France when it found its own submarine deal with Canberra suddenly cancelled.
France has since moved to strengthen its relationships with long-time partners including Japan and India, as well as turning to Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia, which also raised concerns about the AUKUS deal.
The two countries deepened their strategic partnership agreement during a two-day visit by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to the archipelago last November, the same month in which AUKUS was announced.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Indonesia’s decision to choose “French industrial excellence”, writing on Twitter that the Rafale deal would “strengthen our partnerships”.
Eric Trappier, CEO of manufacturer Dassault Aviation, said the contract “marks the start of a long-term partnership that will see Dassault Aviation rapidly step up its presence in the country.
“It also demonstrates the strong bond between Indonesia and France and reinforces the position of the world’s largest archipelago as a key power on the international stage.”
Indonesia also has orders for military equipment with South Korea and India.
“For an archipelago of 17,000 islands, Indonesia has a very small navy and a very small coastguard,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in the United States and an expert in Southeast Asian security, told Al Jazeera. “Since its founding most of the country’s security threats have been internal so now we see Indonesia rushing to build a modern naval fleet and acquire aircraft to support that fleet.”