MELBOURNE, Australia — Indonesia’s armed forces chief has played down reports that the country will be buying the Airbus A400M Atlas strategic airlifter.

Speaking after a meeting of the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) leadership in Jakarta, TNI commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo was quoted by Indonesia’s state news agency Antara as saying there have been no developments since Indonesian President Joko Widodo was last briefed on the aircraft, adding that the president did not agree with the decision to acquire the A400M at the time.

The general was responding to reports last week that the Indonesian House of Representatives' commission on defense, intelligence and foreign affairs, Komisi I, had approved a budget of $2 billion for the acquisition of five A400Ms.

The approval was reportedly conditional upon the final three airframes undergoing final assembly at the facilities of state-owned aerospace firm PT Dirgantara in Bandung on Indonesia’s main island of Java, as well as Indonesian engineers being allowed to study and train on the assembly of various major aircraft components for the first two airframes at Airbus in Seville, Spain.

Airbus declined to comment when asked by Defense News about Indonesia's interest in the A400M. However, Indonesian defense watchers told Defense News they concurred that Widodo and TNI leadership have yet to warm to any acquisition of the A400M.

All this despite Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu flagging the possible acquisition of A400M aircraft to bolster the Indonesian military's airlift and transport capabilities in 2016, with the need for a heavy-lift capability that can deliver cargo to outlying islands growing increasingly pressing as its C-130 fleet ages.

Airbus says the A400M has a cabin volume of 12,000 cubic feet and can haul a payload of 37 tons, including a disassembled Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter or palletized cargo and heavy machinery for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions on austere runways.

Indonesia is an archipelago with more than 6,000 inhabited islands containing a population of 258 million people, stretching from the eastern Indian Ocean to Papua New Guinea from east to west, and from Borneo south of the Philippines to the Timor and Arafura seas north to south.

The country is vulnerable to regular natural disasters such as earthquakes and tropical storms, and the TNI is frequently called on to perform HADR missions with a mixed fleet of approximately a dozen Lockheed Martin C-130B/Hs and L-100 Hercules aircraft as its primary airlifter split among two squadrons, including four C-130Hs donated by Australia from 2013.

The Indonesian C-130 fleet has been worked hard flying around the vast archipelago and has suffered accordingly, with at least five aircraft lost since 2000 and several others in various states of unserviceability out of more than 20 delivered since 1960. Australia has sold five more C-130Hs to Indonesia at knock down prices, but these are yet to be delivered.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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