Secret air defence asset … a Sukhoi SU-30MK2 jet fighter.
INDONESIA is sending its front-line Sukhoi jet fighters to take part in Australia's largest air combat exercise later this month, signalling a new era of enhanced defence co-operation. The Indonesian air force has never given the Australian Defence Force access to the Russian-made aircraft, which were built to compete with the United States' fourth generation jet fighters.
But four of the Sukhoi SU-30s will be flown to the Northern Territory to take part in Exercise Pitch Black 2012, which will include mock combat battles with Australian FA-18s in Australian and Indonesian airspace.
US jet fighters will take part in the exercise, which will run from July 27 to August 17 and will be commanded from Darwin and Tindal air bases.
John Farrell, a military analyst, said the decision to send the Sukhoi fighters to Australia would bring defence co-operation between the ADF and Indonesian military to an unprecedented 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.'' The decision is also a vote of confidence in the defence relationship after Indonesia expressed concern over US marines operating from a joint facility in Darwin.
The Indonesian Air Force spokesman, Colonel Agung Sasongko Jati, confirmed to the Herald the plan to send jets to Australia for Pitch Black.
He said the air force had needed to train its pilots in flying the new aircraft before they could deploy them in the joint exercise. Indonesia's air force has been on a buying spree recently with the next-generation Russian-built Sukhoi jets. It already operates 10 Sukhoi-27s and four Sukhoi-30MK2 jets, and recently announced a new order for six Sukhoi-30MK2 fighters.
A joint communique issued after the July 3 meeting between Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said that ''co-operation between Australian and Indonesian defence forces goes from strength to strength'' and encouraged senior defence officials in both countries to ''review existing security co-operation''.
Australia and Indonesia are negotiating to establish a Defence Co-operation Arrangement.