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After string of military exercises with western powers, is Indonesia standing up to China like never before?

Ready to Face Australian F-35s: Indonesian Air Force F-16 arrives in Manado for the 2023 Elang Ausindo Exercise (Image courtesy: Twitter/@_TNIAU)

In a first, Australia has deployed its F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Indonesia as part of Exercise ‘Elang AUSINDO 23’ which began at Manado in strategically-located North Sulawesi – one of the most developed provinces in eastern Indonesia.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) said Monday that its six F-35As will be part of the joint exercise for the first time from September 18 to 28. Exercise Elang AUSINDO 23 involves 150 RAAF personnel training alongside 160 members of Indonesian forces. The Indonesian Air Force will deploy F-16 fighter aircraft for the air combat mission.

The exercise will see Australian and Indonesian personnel plan and execute air combat exercise missions including offensive and defensive counter air missions; basic fighter manoeuvres and air combat manoeuvres and air-to-air refuelling with a RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport.

First held in 1993, Exercise Elang AUISINDO is part of a series of Royal Australian Air Force’s air cooperation exercises with Indonesia that includes Albatross AUSINDO (for maritime surveillance) and Rajawali AUSINDO (for tactical airlift).

“Through this exercise we can build mutual cooperation, trust and understanding, both at the aviator-level and more broadly between the Australian Defence Force and Indonesian National Armed Forces,” said Air Vice-Marshal Glen Braz, Air Commander Australia.

“We are fully committed to a strong bilateral partnership with Indonesia; this important exercise allows our air forces to develop deeper relationships and enhance cooperation,” Air Vice-Marshal Braz added.

Australian Air Force
It’s the first time that Royal Australian Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft have travelled to Indonesia (Image courtesy: Twitter/@AusAirForce)

Indonesia is now constantly looking to partner friendly countries in order to counter China’s belligerent activities in the South China Sea and address growing security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.

More than 5,000 troops from seven participating nations trained in and around East Java in Exercise Super Garuda Shield 2023 – the largest-ever Super Garuda Shield exercise since the training activity began in 2009 – which concluded last week.

Indonesia was joined by the United States, Australia, France, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, with a further 12 nations, including India, also sending observers.

It comprised of several training phases including a subject matter expert exchange, combined arms field training, amphibious operations, and a special operations military free fall jump.

The exercise culminated in live-fire training by multinational forces, including strikes by F-16, AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-1 Super Cobra aircraft, 105mm artillery and HIMARS rocket systems, and by tanks, infantry and other weapons systems.

Just around the same time, the Indonesian Defence Ministry also announced that it has signed an agreement with a British firm to procure a Submarine Rescue Vehicle System (SRVS) to support the modernization of defence equipment within the Indonesian Navy.

The agreement includes provision of a technologically-advanced SRV-F Mk.3 rescue submarine as well as a special aircraft carrier (mothership) designed to support emergency submarine rescue missions.

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Defence M Herindra held talks with a top-level Airbus delegation visiting the country to strengthen collaboration.

The defence equipment products made by Airbus which are currently in effective contract with the Indonesian government are the Anti-Submarine Heli (AKS); Heavy transport helicopter, H225M; A-400 M Turboprop engine cargo aircraft; and the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). All modes of defence equipment are also accompanied by supporting instruments and spare parts.

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