Indonesian Sukhoi SU-30 coming in to land at Darwin RAAF base

These are the first pictures from Australian airspace of Indonesia’s front-line jet fighter, the Sukhoi SU-30, four of which landed at Darwin’s RAAF base earlier today to take part in Exercise Pitch Black 2012.

As military analyst John Farrell told Lindsay Murdoch and Michael Bachelard in this report in The Age last week, the decision to send the Sukhoi fighters to Australia would bring defence cooperation between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian military to a new level.

”Indonesia has never before been prepared to send its primary air defence asset to a foreign nation,” Mr Farrell, who publishes the Australian & NZ Defender Magazine, said. ”The fact they are sending them to Australia indicates that Canberra and Jakarta have looked up and seen much greater threats around them,” he said, referring to China and India. ”The Sukhoi [SU-30s] are Indonesia’s most secret air defence asset … this shows a lot of trust towards Australia a decade after relations between the two defence forces were in deep freeze over East Timor.”

Airpower Australia (a most useful site if you are interested in these matters) reports the following about Indonesia’s (relatively) recent acquisition of the Sukhoi fighters:

In late April 2003, Indonesian President Megawati signed an MoU with Russia for the supply of four Sukhoi fighters, two Su-27SK and two Su-30MK (some sources claim Su-35, others Su-30KI) to the Indonesian TNI-AU later this year. Media reports from Jakarta indicated that the TNI-AU intends to acquire between 48 and 54 of these aircraft over this decade, and often report the inclusion of an aerial refuelling capability – part of the Su-30KI configuration. Whether the TNI-AU aircraft are Su-27SKs, Su-35s, Su-30KIs or Su-30MKs is immaterial in the longer term, since the basic KNAAPO/Irkut T-10 family of designs permits incremental retrofits, and cash permitting any of these variants can over time morph into a more advanced model.

Since then the TNI-AU had its four aircraft delivered. In 2006, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Moscow and ordered an additional six aircraft, as part of a larger arms package.

There is also an another perspective on just why the Indonesians turned to the Russians for their aircraft, and this may be relevant to how some people regard the increased cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, including Exercise Pitch Black, which (officially) kicks off next Monday.

This is from the Defence Industry Daily earlier this year (and scroll down for further details):

Indonesia’s turn toward Russian fighters stemmed partly from necessity. Its 12 remaining F-16A/Bs and 16 remaining F-5E/F fighters experienced severe maintenance problems in the wake of a US embargo, triggered by the Indonesian military’s widespread human rights abuses in East Timor. Its 30+ single-seat Hawk 209 sub-sonic light combat aircraft, derived from the trainer jets the TNI-AU also operates, were the country’s other fighter option. A $192 million contract began to address that in 2003, by buying 2 SU-27SK single-seat and 2 Su-30MKK twin-seat multi-role fighters from Russia. Indonesia submitted a formal request to buy 24 used F-16s in 2011, but it isn’t backing away from its high-end Flanker fleet. In fact, the TNI-AU has steadily added more:

Anyway, enough of the talk – here are some more pics of the first Sukhoi SU-30s to land on Australian soil at Darwin earlier today.

Close up of the double-cockpit.
Side-on view