Australian and Indonesian airforces building sky-high relationships

For the first time, the Royal Australian Air Force's premier 5th Generation F-35A fighters have operated out of neighbouring Indonesia, and alongside the F-16s of the Indonesian Airforce (TNI-AU); a landmark milestone for the Indonesia-Australian partnership celebrating 30 years of fighter communities exercising together.

Two RAAF F-35A Lightning II's from 75 Squadron fly with two TNI-AU F-16 Fighting Falcons during Exercise Elang Ausindo 2023. Photo: Corporal Kieren Whiteley / Department of Defence

Royal Australian Air Force aircrew built confidence sharing knowledge and developing tactics with their Indonesian Air Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – Angkatan Udara, or TNI-AU) counterparts during this year's Exercise Elang Ausindo, the Australian Department of Defence reported

Held at Manado in North Sulawesi from 18 to 28 September 2023, the Elang exercise planned and executed 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 conducted in 1993, Elang is one of three annual bilateral exercises between the RAAF and the TNI-AU. Tactical air exercises are also conducted as part of the Albatross (for maritime surveillance) and Rajawali (for tactical airlift) exercises.

Some 150 Australian personnel supported the RAAF F-35A Lightning IIs from the 75th Squadron stationed at Tindal alongside 160 Indonesian personnel supporting the TNI-AU’s F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 3rd Squadron, normally based at Iswahyudi Air Base in East Java.

RAAF pilot Flying Officer Nicholas said conducting basic fighter and dissimilar air combat maneuveres has further strengthened the partnership.

“The experience working with the Indonesian Air Force has been incredible. During Elang Ausindo, the Australians and Indonesians have been integrating into the same formations, working together through briefing, flying and debriefing all to make it as realistic as possible,” he said.

This is the first time RAAF F-35As have operated out of Indonesia, a landmark milestone for the Indo-Australian partnership celebrating 30 years of fighter communities exercising together.

Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) Pilot Captain Yanuar Widyantoko (left), Captain Taufik Prianda (right) and Flying Officer Nicholas after a mission during Exercise Elang AUSINDO 2023. Photo: Corporal Kieren Whiteley / Department of Defence

75 Squadron was on the road for five weeks, participating in Exercise Alon in the Philippines and Exercise Bushido Guardian in Japan, before coming to Indonesia for Exercise Elang Ausindo. 

Commanding Officer 75 Squadron Wing Commander Martin Parker said these five weeks have enhanced interoperability and confidence within international and unfamiliar air spaces.

“We’ll be walking away from the exercise having operated this highly technical platform on the road in Asia, with limited support for five weeks, and this has given us a great sense of confidence,” he said.

RAAF fighter combat instructor Squadron Leader Paul Anderton said it was rewarding to train both TNI-AU and RAAF pilots.

“We setup the exercise to be able to share foundational air tactics. This enabled us to learn from each other in the air and on the ground,” he said.

TNI-AU F-16 pilot First Lieutenant Akbar said the fifth and fourth-generation platforms worked together highly effectively, drawing upon the strengths of each platform to complete their missions in Manado and prepare aviators for the future.

“The benefit of the F-35A and the F-16 flying together was the F-35A has advanced technology, which gives them much more situational awareness for the larger area,” he said.

“The F-16 performs very well in the medium to short-range environment.”

Immediately prior to the commencement of Exercise Elang, RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport from 33 Squadron conducted air-to-air refuelling with F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft of the Indonesian Air Force.

At the commencement of the exercise, Air Vice-Marshal Glen Braz, Air Commander Australia, described Elang as building "mutual cooperation, trust and understanding, both at the aviator-level and more broadly between the Australian Defence Force and Indonesian National Armed Forces.

“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.”

In its review, Indonesia's TNI-AU also described the exercise as an opportunity for both countries to "strengthen their defense diplomacy and build trust between the two air forces. Airmen from both countries exchanged information and experiences to help strengthen their strategic relationship.

"It is hoped that Elang Ausindo 2023 will make a positive contribution to security and stability in the region, while strengthening the ties of friendship between Indonesia and Australia. This exercise shows that military collaboration between countries can create strong synergy and provide benefits for both parties in growing 'Confidence Building Measures', mutual trust between the two countries."