Procurement: Russia Loses To Cheaper And Newer

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August 22, 2012:  Indonesia recently confirmed that the six Su-30 jet fighters it ordered from Russia earlier this year (for $78 million each) would be the last Russian fighters to be purchased. Indonesia already has ten Su-27s and Su-30s, and wanted at least 16 of these modern aircraft so they will have a full squadron. Although expensive, the Russian fighters are modern and look great. They are also relatively cheap to maintain. This was all part of a plan to switch from American fighters (ten F-16s and 16 F-5s) to Russian Su-27s and 30s. But used F-16s are so much cheaper than Su-27s that public pressure forced the Indonesian politicians to hang on to the F-16s, and upgrade existing F-16s, an expensive proposition that appeals to corrupt Indonesian officials.

Although Indonesia wanted to buy 180 Su-27 and Su-30 fighters from Russia they are now also rebuilding their older force of early model F-16s. In addition, Indonesia has ordered 24 used, but modernized, F-16Cs for $31 million each. The ten older F-16s will also be modernized to the same standard.

Indonesian Air force generals opposed the acquisition of the F-16s because they feared this would lead to a reduction in the procurement of new Russian fighters. The generals believed the Russian fighters are a better match for the F-18Es and MiG-29s that neighboring Malaysia is acquiring and the F-35s that Australia is buying. But the F-16s have a proven combat record that the Su-27s and Su-30s lack. The American fighter also has a better reputation for reliability.

In addition South Korea and Indonesia agreed last year to jointly develop a new fighter, the KFX. This would be an aircraft with capabilities somewhat beyond the top-line American F-16 (the Block 60, developed for the UAE, as the F-16E).

 KFX development is expected to take ten years and cost $2 billion. Some of that money will end up in the pockets of Indonesian politicians. In the meantime, South Korea hopes to build on the work it did to develop its new T-50 jet trainer. This is a 13 ton, two seat, single engine aircraft that is also available as a combat model (the F-50), which carries a 20mm autocannon and up to three tons of bombs and missiles.

The KFX would weigh twice as much at the F-50 and have one or two engines, a single seat, and the ability to carry twice as much weight in weapons. The KFX is expected to look more like the Eurofighter Typhoon than the T-50 or F-16. The KFX is also expected to cost $50 million each and have advanced electronics (including an AESA radar). Indonesia will provide 20 percent of the development costs and buy about sixty of the KFXs. South Korea will buy 150-250 of the new aircraft, to replace its current fleet of elderly American F-4s and F-5s. This is an ambitious undertaking and success is not certain, especially where the timeline, budget, and aircraft performance are concerned.

 


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