Jakarta will order 42 Rafale fighter jets in a $8.1 billion deal as part of a series of agreements also including submarine development, making Indonesia the biggest French arms client in the region.
The deal comes as Paris seeks to expand geopolitical ties in the Indo-Pacific after the United States, Britain and Australia created a new strategic alliance last year called AUKUS.
Indonesia has been seeking to overhaul its ageing air fleet for a while, which up until today includes U.S.-made F-16 and Russian Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 jets.
French President Emmanuel Macron immediately expressed satisfaction on Twitter official account. “42 Rafale! Indonesia chooses French industrial excellence! The know-how of the more than 400 French companies and thousands of workers who design the Rafale is recognized.”
The agreement to obtain the first six Rafale aircraft was signed in a meeting between Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and France’s Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly during her visit to Jakarta.
Separately, Parly wrote on Twitter:
“Our strategic partnership will benefit from the deepening of our defense relations. France is proud to contribute to the modernization of our partner’s armed forces, which play a key role within ASEAN and in the Indo-Pacific.”
France is also trying to expand its influence in the region after its partnership with two members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) collapsed last year. In September Australia abruptly cancelled a contract to purchase French submarines, and chose to build nuclear submarines with the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Growing tensions with China
Nikkei Asia reported in December that Beijing had repeatedly told Jakarta to halt an oil and natural gas development project in an area of the South China Sea that is within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone but overlaps China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claim covering much of the sea.
Indonesia had also previously held talks with Turkey about submarines: an area that Indonesia wants to beef up in view of China’s increasingly aggressive stance in South China Sea.
Indonesia is the first Southeast Asian country to purchase the “Rafale” but the French aircraft has already been sold in several Middle East countries: In December the United Arab Emirates signed a record deal for 80 of the warplanes, Qatar has purchased 36 and Egypt has ordered more than 50.