Markus Junianto Sihaloho
Beleaguered state aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia may have been thrown a parachute through an agreement to jointly produce jet fighters with South Korea.
The Defense Ministry said on Thursday that it was expecting DI’s production facilities to manufacture 50 South Korean KF-X fighters.
“We won’t just buy the fighters, we also want to jointly produce them. We hope the facilities of PT Dirgantara Indonesia will be used for the production,” said Brig. Gen. I Wayan Midhio, the ministry’s spokesman.
According to an Agence France-Presse report from Seoul, Indonesia had agreed to help develop the fighter. The project, however, has been delayed for years by technical and budgetary problems.
The report, citing the South Korean Defence Ministry, said that Indonesia would acquire about 50 of the fighters in return for shouldering 20 percent of the development costs, of which there was no estimate.
The deal, which calls for both sides to work together on marketing and production, was signed by Byun Moo-Keun, commissioner for the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration, and his Indonesian counterpart, Eris Herryanto.
Midhio said that the KF-X was a good all-purpose military aircraft. “Better than the F-16 jet fighter, but not as good as the F-35,” he said.
“I think the most important principle now is that our country can join the production process, a transfer of technology process,” he said.
Air Force spokesman First Marshal Bambang Samudro said cooperation with the South Korean government was part of plans by both countries to increase fighter production capacity.
“It’s long-term cooperation between both countries. The talks went through a long process.”
He said production would likely start this year.
“The most important thing is that we can manufacture our own military equipment,” he said.
Indonesia has been seeking to diversify its sources of military hardware since the US Congress introduced an arms embargo in connection with violence that surrounded East Timor’s 1999 vote for independence. The ban was reversed in late 2005.
AFP reported that South Korea launched the project in 2000 to domestically produce fighters equipped with state-of-the-art stealth capabilities.
After delays due to questions about the project’s economic and technical feasibility, President Lee Myung-bak agreed in January to push ahead with development amid the growing recent tensions with North Korea.
South Korea plans to decommission its aging F-4 and F-5 fighter jets by 2020. Yonhap news agency said around 170 F-5s operate in South Korea at present.
DI was initially established in 1976 as PT Industri Pesawat Terbang Nurtanio, with BJ Habibie at the helm. Habibie later became President Suharto’s vice president and eventually replaced the strongman in May 1998.
The company changed its name to DI in 2000, and now assembles helicopters and produces aircraft jointly with Spain-based Casa. In the face of dwindling orders, the company relies on subcontracting the production of aircraft parts for major producers.
Mounting debt led a court to declare DI bankrupt in 2007 although the ruling was overturned a month later.