Indonesia to buy 42 Rafale jets as it boosts ties with France

Paris is looking to expand geopolitical relations in Indo-Pacific after Australia scrapped a multibillion-dollar deal.

French Navy Rafale fighter jets are seen onboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
The Rafale aircraft, which is made by Dassault Aviation, entered service in 2004 [File: Stefanos Kouratzis/Reuters]

Indonesia has agreed to buy six Rafale fighter jets produced by French manufacturer Dassault Aviation, with the acquisition of 36 more on the way, the governments of the two countries said.

“It’s official: Indonesia orders 42 Rafales,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly said in a Twitter post during a visit to Indonesia on Thursday.

The two countries signed a series of agreements that also include submarine development and ammunition manufacturing.

Parly said the “strategic partnership will benefit from the deepening of our defence relations”, adding that France was proud to contribute to the modernisation of armed forces within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

For his part, Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto told a news conference: “We started this today with the signing of a contract for six aircraft, to be followed soon with another for 36 with necessary support and simulators.”

Dassault Aviation said the announcement marked the start of a long-term partnership and would allow it to rapidly step up its presence in Indonesia. Its shares climbed about 4 percent on news of the agreement.

The deal comes as France seeks to expand geopolitical ties in the Indo-Pacific, with Indonesia becoming the second country in the region – after India – to acquire the aircraft.

It also follows Australia’s decision last year to cancel a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France in favour of a new strategic alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom, called AUKUS, that includes nuclear-powered submarines.

Indonesia has expressed concern about AUKUS, wary that the use of such submarines could add to geopolitical tensions in Southeast Asia, a region where China has considerable clout.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he hoped the partnership with France would not be limited to munition purchases but include joint production, technological transfer, and investment in defence industries.

The Rafale aircraft, which entered service in 2004, has proved popular in the international market despite competition from the US and other European manufacturers.

The United Arab Emirates signed the biggest-ever deal for the jets in December to buy 80 aircraft for $19bn, while its other foreign clients include Croatia, Egypt, Greece and Qatar.

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