1960’s Indonesia and the Eastern Bloc
Sukarno was the post independence Presidential leader of Indonesia from 1945 to 1967. Indonesia declared independence from Japan in 1945, but it took armed resistance with the Netherlands, the pre-war colonial power, to gain official independence in 1949. In 1957 he began to instill an autocratic system of government to end rebellions within this vast archipelago nation. By the early 1960’s he was openly supporting the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and increasing ties with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
Sukarno’s government began rattling the cage of foreign policy in the form of anti-imperialist undertakings, such as Operation Trikora, the planned invasion in 1962 to seize the Netherlands New Guinea (known as Papua today) from their old colonial masters and the Indonesian-Malaysia Confrontation, a conflict from 1963 to 1966 between British Commonwealth and Indonesian forces (including communist insurgents within Western Malaysia and Borneo). To conduct such operations the Indonesian military required modern combat aircraft, which the Soviet Union was very willing to provide to help cement another communist sympathetic nation in South East Asia.
By 1962, the Republic of Indonesia Air Force (TNI-AU, formerly AURI) had expanded in personnel and equipment, and was armed with various Soviet supplied MiG fighters, Tupolev Tu-16KS-1 Badger B strategic bombers and Mil helicopters to become one of the best equipped air forces in South East Asia. They had a force that could easily overwhelm Dutch land, air and sea forces in Netherlands New Guinea.
All the Dutch had to defend the colonial territory from the 100+ fighters and bombers of the Indonesian Air Force (including older aircraft such as North American P-51D Mustang fighters, Douglas A-26 Invader attack aircraft and North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, alongside MiG jets) were 11 Dutch Navy Lockheed P2V Neptune Maritime Patrol Aircraft and 24 Dutch Air Force Hawker Hunter fighters (an even mix of Mk.4 and Mk.6 variants). The Dutch Navy aircraft carrier HMNLS Karel Doorman (R18 – Colossus Class) would have been a major target for the Indonesians, but its main air defence aircraft onboard, 10 Hawker Sea Hawk Mk.50 jet fighters armed with a pair of Sidewinder air to air missiles, were removed in 1961 when the carriers operational profile switched to Anti Submarine Warfare.
Fortunately Operation Trikora never went ahead as a full-scale operation. Instead the hand over of Netherlands New Guinea was negotiated by the United Nations in 1962, with only small-scale land skirmishes in phase one of the operation. Indonesia occupied the territory in 1963 and renamed it Irian Jaya, which is today simply known as Papua.
This government leaning to the left did nothing to enthuse certain high-ranking officers of the Indonesian Army and Islamic population. The United States commenced negotiations with certain Indonesian military officers which included weapons exchanges. This began to create a split between right-wing military factions and those on the left affiliated with the PKI.
PKI sympathetic military forces (especially in air force command) staged a coup on October 1st, 1965 (known as the 30 September Movement), assassinating a number of Army generals in and attempt to take over the military leadership, media outlets and the government of Indonesia. Suharno was put under house arrest during the coup (where he remained until his death in 1970). General Suharto took command of the army and almost immediately put down the coup (he would go on to lead Indonesia from 1967 to 1998). Military, political and religious leaders blamed the coup on the PKI, which then gave legitimacy to arrest and in certain cases execute PKI leaders to remove the communist party from the political map of Indonesia. Indonesian Air Force command was also purged during this period.
Obviously the Soviet Union was not enthused with this change in government leanings towards the west and the United States in particular. A Soviet arms embargo was placed on Indonesia, spare parts for aircraft soon dried up and by 1969 most Soviet aircraft were grounded. By 1970 most were officially retired and put into storage or scrapped. Indonesia once again looked to the west to provide them with combat aircraft and helicopters. Where possible the Soviet fighters were sold off to other nations.
Soviet Supplied Aircraft
During the arms build up of the 1960’s, the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) required modern jet fighters, ground attack aircraft, bombers, trainers, transports and helicopters. The Soviets seemed happy enough to provide all of this for a fee (along with other Eastern Bloc nations such as Czechoslovakia and Poland).
Combat aircraft supplied mostly in 1961/62, included 40+ Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F/PF Fresco fighter-bombers, 35 MiG-19S Farmer C fighters, 20 MiG-21F-13 Fishbed C supersonic fighters, 2 MiG-21U two-seat trainers, 12 Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle medium bombers (30 Il-28T torpedo bombers and 5 Il-28U trainers were also delivered to the Indonesian Navy TNI-AL – the last of which managed to fly on until 1972) and 26 Tupolev Tu-16KS-1 Badger B strategic bombers. Most MiG fighter pilot training was conducted in Egypt, which was also militarily aligned with the Soviet Union during that period.
Other aircraft included 3 Antonov An-12 Cub and 28 Ilyushin Il-14 Crate transports (the latter were in service from 1957 to 1975 and included Czechoslovakian Avia 14 licence built examples), 2 PZL TS-8 Bies trainers from Poland (delivered in 1960), 15 Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15UTI trainers and 18 Aero L-29 Delfin trainers from Czechoslovakia (the latter were in operation from 1965 to 1983, flying with the No. 1 Training Wing). Helicopters included 8 Mil Mi-1 Hare and 2 Mil Mi-2 Hoplite light utility helicopters, 26 Mil Mi-4 Hound transports (this type seemed to have had a short service life from just 1965 to 1969. The Hound was also operated by the Indonesian Army Aviation Command) and 8 giant Mil Mi-6 Hook heavy transports. S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) Surface to Air Missile systems were also supplied to Indonesia.
The majority of these aircraft were grounded in 1969 and officially retired in 1970 following the subsequent Soviet arms embargo. A number of examples of these Soviet era aircraft can be found today at the Indonesian Armed Forces Museum (Museum Satria Mandala) in Jakarta and the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) in Yogyakarta. I visited both of these fascinating museums in Java in May 2018. Alas no Ilyushin Il-28 Beagles were at either museum but I did see one on display along the road to the Surabaya Airport, near where they were once based (unfortunately I was going past in a taxi on the way to the airport).
Although the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F/PF Fresco was pretty dated by the 1960’s, North Vietnam had seen some success using the type against American aircraft and it was still a good dogfighter. MiG-17F/PF aircraft were used against insurgent forces in the early 1960’s and were stationed in readiness for Operation Trikora against the Dutch, where they would have provided the backbone of the Indonesian fighter force. In 1962 No. 11 Squadron (Skadron Udara 11) MiG-17’s were used in an aerobatic team that had previously flown North American P-51D Mustang fighters from No. 3 Squadron (Skadron Udara 3). Of an original 46 P-51D/K fighters delivered in 1950, many were still operational with the TNI-AU until 1969 (they continued in the ground attack / Counter Insurgency role in those later years)!
MiG-17 armament consisted primarily of 2 x 23mm Nudelman Rikhter NR-23 cannons and 1 x 37mm Nudelman N-37 cannon mounted under the nose air intake. In addition a 500 kg (1,100 lb) payload of rockets or bombs could be carried on 2 underwing pylons.
MiG-19S Farmer C
The Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-19 Farmer first entered Soviet service in 1955 and with a top speed of Mach 1.35, was their first supersonic fighter (powerplant 2 x Turmansky RD-9B afterburning turbojet engines). It was relatively light and had a high power to weight ratio greater than 1:1, giving it an excellent rate of climb but fuel tanks were sacrificed to give this fast climbing interceptor capability, therefore the MiG-19 was short on range. Armament consisted of 3 x 30mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-30 cannons (2 in the wing roots and 1 in the nose) and 4 underwing pylons for a 500 kg (1,100 lb) payload of rockets and bombs.
The Indonesian MiG-19S Farmer C variant had entered Eastern Bloc service in 1956, so the type was already becoming outdated for the time once it entered Indonesian service in 1961. Reportedly a number had crashed by the time they were retired in 1969, most survivors were sold to the Pakistan Air Force.
MiG-21F-13 Fishbed C
The Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21F-13 Fishbed C supersonic fighters were delivered from the Soviet Union in 1962. They were armed with a 30mm starboard cannon and a pair of Vympel K-13 / AA-2 Atoll short-range heat seeking missiles. Although the MiG-21 gave the Indonesians a fast Mach 2 capable day interceptor, the subsequent Soviet arms embargo meant they were grounded in 1969 and retired in 1970. This would have been a big setback to the TNI-AU capability and pilot prestige at the time. It would be a few years before a suitable replacement was found.
Tu-16KS-1 Badger B
The Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) Tupolev Tu-16KS-1 Badger B strategic bombers were delivered from the Soviet Union in 1961 and at the time, their long-range must have caused quite a stir in the region! The Badger B could launch two ungainly looking underwing Raduga KS-1 Komet (NATO code name AS-1 Kennel) anti-ship missiles – the aerodynamics of the missile were developed from the MiG-15. Defensive armament consisted of 7 x 23mm Afanasev Makarov AM-23 cannons, with a single cannon fixed in the nose, two in a manned tail gun turret and two each in remote gun turrets in the ventral and dorsal positions.
The Tu-16KS-1 at the Indonesian Air Force Museum (Dirgantara Mandala) is displayed with a pair of KS-1 missiles underwing. The big bombers would have been used against Dutch Navy ships if Operation Trikora had gone ahead as a full-scale operation in 1962. By 1969 all were grounded though and officially retired in 1970 (1 crashed in 1962).
I cannot help but think what a huge operational and technical leap the Tu-16 Badger was for Indonesian bomber pilots and crews. Up until this time and even during and beyond the 1960’s, Indonesian pilots were flying simpler to maintain World War Two era twin piston engine North American B-25 Mitchell and Douglas B-26 Invader medium bombers!
Indonesia received 42 B-25C/D/J models from the Dutch post Independence, Circa 1950 and flew them until the late 1970’s! They also received 6 Douglas B-26 Invader’s from the United States and operated them from 1962 to 1976 (redesignated as the A-26 in US service). Both the B-25 and B-26 were widely used in combat operations against insurgent groups throughout that period and were ready to go into action if needed against the Dutch during Operation Trikora in 1962 and Commonwealth forces during Operation Dwikora in 1964.
The Chinese Connection
24 piston engine Lavochkin La-11 Fang fighters also found their way into Indonesian service in 1958 with No. 3 Squadron. The La-11 fighters (F-901 to F-924) were supplied by the Peoples Republic of China (who operated the type until 1966) along with a couple of Tupolev Tu-2 bombers (which did not go into operational service) and 3 Lavochkin La-9UTI two seat trainers (F-925 to F-927). The La-11 was developed by the Soviets post World War Two as a long-range fighter, it was armed with 3 X 23mm nose mounted cannons and had a top speed of 674 km/h (419 mph) at altitude. It appears that the La-11 fighters were only in Indonesian service for 2-3 years. F-911 on display at the Indonesian Air Force Museum does not appear to be fitted with an original canopy, as the one on display appears to be a smaller version of that used on the North American T-6 Texan/Harvard!
Looking to the West
With a change of guard in Indonesia, by the 1970’s the perceived communist spread across South East Asia was still considered highly possible and western nations were keen to prevent that from further happening. Tensions had eased with Indonesia and to help the Indonesian Air Force re-equip, the Australian government donated 18 refurbished CAC CA-27 Sabre jets to Indonesia in 1973 (including spares and a comprehensive training package). In 1976 Indonesia received an additional 5 ex-RAAF Sabre jets from Malaysia as attrition replacements. Although outclassed by modern supersonic combat aircraft (including the MiG-21 they essentially replaced), the Sabre still provided Indonesia with a capable combat aircraft.
The RAAF conducted initial training of Indonesian personnel for operation of the CAC Sabre at RAAF Williamtown in NSW. In February 1973, RAAF No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) pilots flew the jets over a ten day period from RAAF Williamtown to Bali via Mount Isa and Darwin in the Northern Territory. Indonesian pilots then flew them to Iswahyudi Air Base in Java. One of the aircraft (A94-352) was damaged in a crash during take-off from Densapar, Bali but was returned to Australia and later replaced by another CAC Sabre.
As part of the overall training package provided by Australia, the RAAF Sabre Advisory Unit was based in Indonesia until February 1975. They provided further aircrew, technical and logistical training to TNI-AU personnel. TNI-AU No. 14 Squadron operated the Sabres until retired in 1981 (the squadron also flew them in the “Spirit 78” aerobatic display team formed in 1978).
The ageing CAC Sabre aircraft needed to be supplemented and eventually replaced by more modern jet combat aircraft. By the mid 1970’s 16 Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II light fighters/trainers were delivered from the United States in exchange for stored MiG-21F-13’s, which ended up with the USAF for flight testing and combat aggressor training (they would eventually fly with the USAF 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron “Red Eagles“. The F-5E’s were upgraded in Belgium in 1995 and apparently around 6 F-5E and 3 F-5F have been kept in operation.
Indonesia covertly obtained 33 retired Douglas A-4E Skyhawk attack aircraft from Israel and operated them from 1982 to 2003. Armament included twin 30mm DEFA cannons, bombs and rockets. The Skyhawk provided some well needed striking power for the TNI-AU. A-4E examples are on display at both the Armed Forces Museum in Jakarta and the Air Force Museum in Yogyakarta.
Interestingly in more recent times the TNI-AU has operated modern aircraft from both the east and the west. These include combat aircraft from Russia: 5 Sukhoi Su-27SK/SKM Flanker and 11 two-seat Su-30MKK/MK2 Flanker multi-role fighters; the United States: 26 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighters (19 A/C models and 7 B/D two seat combat trainers) and the United Kingdom: 24 British Aerospace Hawk 209 light attack aircraft. The operational history of the Indonesian Air Force has been a fascinating one to date!
Flight International – World Air Forces 2018