MELBOURNE, Australia — Indonesia’s defense minister has said the country intends to acquire new tactical airlifters and heavy-lift helicopters from the United States, as it continues its gradual drive to modernize its military.
Speaking in the capital Jakarta earlier this week, Ryamizard Ryacudu said Indonesia is looking to acquire five Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and the Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, according to the country’s state-owned Antara News Agency.
He did not specify the number of helicopters Indonesia is seeking, but Defense News understands from an Indonesian source the number of Chinooks will be between three and five.
This expected procurement is likely to be just the first step in the southeast Asian archipelago nation’s effort to recapitalize its airlift inventory. Earlier this year, the Indonesian Air Force’s chief of staff, Air Marshal Yuyu Sutisna, was reported by Antara as saying that the service plans for all six of its airlift squadrons to have new aircraft by 2024, which currently operates a mix of light and medium transports alongside older variants of the C-130.
Indonesia’s current Hercules fleet consists of about a dozen "B" and "H" variants of the C-130 aircraft, the oldest of which date back to the early 1960s. The inventory has also been bolstered in recent years by the ongoing transfer of nine C-130Hs from Australia, which has retired the type from service in favor of the C-130J.
However, this has been offset by the loss of five C-130s since 2000, including one of the former Australian aircraft, which crashed while landing in bad weather at one of Indonesia’s remote eastern islands in December 2016, while the older aircraft have suffered from ongoing serviceability issues.
This is not the first time Ryacudu has said Indonesia was seeking the C-130J. He first flagged the intention to do so back in May, following a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Hawaii.
There have also been earlier reports that Indonesia was interested in acquiring Chinooks; however, this is the first time the defense minister has confirmed that it will go ahead with the acquisition. Antara also quoted him as saying Indonesia had evaluated the Russian Mi-26T2 heavy-lift helicopter, but found it unsuitable for the country’s requirements.
The Indonesian military currently does not operate any heavy-lift helicopters, and alongside its relatively small airlift fleet represents a key capability gap for a country made up of more than 17,000 islands that are also prone to natural disasters.
Any Indonesian acquisition of the C-130J and CH-47 will likely be done through Foreign Military Sales channels. It is unclear if Indonesia has formally submitted a request to acquire the types, which must first be approved by the U.S. State Department.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.