Don't buy used jets: Air chief
Nani Afrida and Ina Parlina
The Jakarta Post
An F-16 jet fighter belonging to the Indonesian Air Force burst into flames before takeoff on Thursday at an event held to honor President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo at the Indonesian Military's (TNI) headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta.
The pilot of the jet fighter, Lt. Col. Firman Dwi Cahyono, suffered only minor injuries after jumping to safety as flames engulfed the plane.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter was about to complete a flyby over the TNI headquarters during a ceremony to bestow an honorary rank on President Jokowi.
'The aircraft was about to take off and there was a fire in the engine and the pilot straight away decided to abort the flight,' Air Force chief of staff Air Chief Marshall Agus Supriatna told reporters.
The Air Force said it would launch a probe into the incident.
The F-16 was one of several aircraft that the US recently provided to the TNI in the form of a grant.
Agus also said that the Air Force would not fly any of its F-16 jets for some time, pending a serious investigation into the incident.
Currently, the Air Force owns five F-16 jets and is waiting for the delivery of 19 more from the US.
The accident prompted many to question the government's policy of procuring refurbished jets to augment the country's air defense system.
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker TB Hasanuddin from the House of Representatives Commission I overseeing defense and foreign affairs said that the accident was the result of irregularities in the procurement of the jet fighters.
Hasanuddin said the decision to procure F-16 jets of the C/D 52ID type that caught fire on Thursday was made around 2010-2011 under the administration of then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
He said initially, the Air Force planned to buy six new fully equipped F-16 Blok 60 jet fighters worth US$650 million. The plan, however, was changed when Air Chief Marshal Imam Sufaat was inaugurated as Air Force chief of staff in 2009.
'He [Imam] did not agree to buy new F-16s because we would only get only a handful. He said that we could get 24 units of refurbished F-16 for the same amount of money. The decision was based on a certain middleman's advice,' Hasannuddin said.
Hasanuddin also criticized the decision to increase the price of the 24 jets to $800 million from $650 million.
Responding to the criticism, Agus said he would review the procurement policy on refurbished jets.
Agus said it would be better for the government to procure new jets instead of refurbished ones.
'If we want to procure jet fighters, it is better to buy new ones,' he said.
The Air Force is working on its 2015 strategic plan under which it intends to buy new jet fighters to replace the American-made Northrop F-5 Tiger E/F II.
So far, the government has four options: the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35, American-made F-16 Block 60, Swedish-made Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, a collaboration between Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.
An internal audit at the Defense Ministry has found rampant irregularities in weapon procurement projects.
The ministry has allegedly overspent some $134.9 million in the procurement of a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) worth $405 million from Brazil's Avibras Industria Aeroespacial, according to an investigation report by the ministry's inspectorate general.
In letters to the ministry's top officials, including to then defense minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and deputy defense minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin in April and June 2012, the inspectorate flagged several violations in the procurement process.
The F-16 catching fire was not the only incident that took place in front of Jokowi on Thursday.
Jokowi was witness to another incident in which a member of the Navy's Jala Mengkara Detachment (Denjaka) fell from a roof during a rescue operation demonstration.
First Sgt. Ilyas Hasan was severely injured in the accident and is currently in intensive care.
In a speech at the event, Jokowi said he was honored to be inducted as an honorary member of the TNI and also found time to crack a joke.
'I'm supposed to look more manly than usual,' he said.
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