With Russia’s ‘4++’ generation air superiority fighter the Su-35 first entering service in 2014, the Indonesian Air Force was one of the first potential clients to show interest in acquiring the advanced platform. In early February 2018 it was reported that negotiations had finally been concluded and Jakarta was set to acquire the Russian fighter to modernise its Air Force. Deputy Director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Mikhail Petukhov stated on February 6th regarding the deal: "Indonesia continues to be one of Russia’s basic partners in the Asia-Pacific Region. The negotiations on the delivery of Su-35s to the Republic of Indonesia are continuing. Importantly, the sides are willing to successfully complete the negotiations. I hope that the experts from both sides will shortly agree separate technical aspects. At the same time, I would like to note that all the requirements of the Indonesian legislation have been taken into account and will be adhered to by the Russian side.” Sales to Indonesia are expected to be the first of many to South East Asia, and the country is likely to be the third export client to receive the fighters.
While Indonesia’s military has since 1965 long been a close U.S. and Western client, the United States’ embargo on spare parts for the country’s U.S. made F-5 and F-16 fleets in the 1990s led Jakarta to seek alternative sources of arms. The embargo was placed to ensure a favourable balance of forces for Australia during a conflict between the two countries over East Timor - with the U.S. and Western bloc overwhelmingly siding with Canberra over Jakarta. While reliance on Western arms had guaranteed a highly unfavourable balance of power in the air relative to neighbouring Australia, when Indonesia acquired its first Su-27 and Su-30 heavy air superiority fighters from Russia, formerly the elite of the Soviet Air Force, the country found itself in a far better position relative to its neighbour. The Russian fighters were extremely cost effective when considering their elite capabilities, surpassing the lighter U.S. made F-16 and F-18 in all fields from speed and payload to manoeuvrability and avionics. The Sukhoi platforms were superior to anything in service in Australia and the vast majority of U.S. arms clients due to the United States’ unwillingness to widely export its own heavy air superiority platform - the F-15C. The Indonesian Air Force’s supply of parts was also far more reliable and less prone to being cut off for political reasons.
Indonesia’s familiarity with the Su-27 and Su-30, which currently comprise the bulk of its Air Force capabilities, make it an ideal client for the Su-35 - an advanced adaptation of the same design. The fighter is according to U.S. military analyses unmatched by any Western platform other than the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, though the newly inducted Chinese J-20 fifth generation heavy fighter will also likely prove superior in air to air combat. Indonesia’s acquisition of the fighter will seriously affect the balance of power in South East Asia, leaving Australia, Singapore and Malaysia in an unfavourable position and outmatching any fighters they currently field in its air to air combat capabilities. With supermaneuvarabily as a result of three dimensional thrust vectoring, as well as an unrivalled payload of fourteen air to air missiles, speeds of Mach 2.25, and an advanced Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar the fighter will prove a major challenge for Indonesia’s potential adversaries. Deploying 130km range R-27 missiles, significantly outperforming the 75km range AIM-120B deployed by Australia and Singapore, the fighter will retain an advantage in both visual and beyond visual range engagements. The Indonesian Air Force will be thus able to rely on the Su-35’s distinct capability advantages to retain parity with the numerically superior Australian Air Force and all other potential regional adversaries.