Indonesia will send Sukhoi jet fighters to take part in Australia's largest air combat exercise this month

Sukhoi TNI-AU Indonesia will send its front-line Sukhoi jet fighters to take part in Australia's largest air combat exercise th...

Sukhoi TNI-AU

Indonesia will send its front-line Sukhoi jet fighters to take part in Australia's largest air combat exercise this month, signalling a new era of enhanced defence co-operation between the 2 countries.

The Indonesian air force has not previously given the Australian Defence Force access to the Russian-made aircraft, which were built to compete with the fourth-generation jet fighters of the US.

Four Sukhois will be in the Northern Territory for Exercise Pitch Black 2012, which will include mock combat with Australian F/A-18s in Australian and Indonesian airspace.

US jet fighters will participate in the exercise from July 27 to August 17, and will be commanded from Darwin and Tindal air bases.

Military analyst John Farrell said the decision to send the Sukhois to Australia would bring defence co-operation between the ADF and Indonesian military to a new level.

''Indonesia has never before been prepared to send its primary air defence asset to a foreign nation,'' said Mr Farrell, who publishes the Australian & NZ Defender Magazine.

''That 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-27s 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.''

It is also a vote of confidence in the defence relationship after Indonesia expressed concern over US marines operating from a joint facility in Darwin.

Indonesian air force spokesman Colonel Agung Sasongkojati confirmed to The Age the plan to send jets to Australia for Pitch Black.

Colonel Sasongkojati said the air force had needed to train its pilots on the aircraft before it could deploy them in the joint exercise.

Indonesia's air force has been on a buying spree recently. It already operates 10 Sukhoi-27s and four Sukhoi-30 MK2 jets, and recently announced a new order for six Sukhoi-30 MK2 fighters.

A joint communique issued after the July 3 meeting between Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and 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.

Canberra's military ties with Jakarta have been strained over many years. Relations hit their lowest point in 1999, when Australian troops were sent to East Timor to quell violence by pro-Indonesian military militia groups.

But in recent years the military-to-military relationship warmed as Australia provided expertise to Indonesia's security forces to counter terrorist groups.

The decision to send the Sukhois to Australia is believed to have been approved by Dr Yudhoyono.
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