Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has just wrenched from Donald Trump what only one of America's allies has managed to obtain. And that ally is not Israel, nor Saudi Arabia, nor even the United Kingdom. It is Japan. But what is it that only the government in Tokyo and now the government in Jakarta have been able to take from Washington? It is nothing less than the V-22 Osprey, the most sophisticated and versatile aircraft in the US Armed Forces' fleet. But it is also one of the most expensive and complex to maintain in flight conditions given its tilting rotor technology, which allows it to add the advantages of the helicopter to those of a turboprop aircraft.
President Jokowi has just begun the process to acquire a batch of V-22s to be used by his National Armed Forces to accomplish two very different missions. On the one hand, to be used to respond quickly to the calls for help from the civilian population suffering from the natural disasters that hit the extensive Indonesian archipelago, a territory made up of 17,508 islands, largely covered by forests and jungles, inhabited by nearly 300 million people, of which more than 200 million practice the Muslim religion.
They will also be used to act in support of operations against Islamic jihadist terrorist groups, such as Jemaah Islamiyah, a branch of Al Qaeda, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhido or the Timorese Mujahideen. The great flexibility that the new aircraft will provide will serve to quickly launch tactical operations to counter terrorist actions and to carry out preventive anti-terrorist actions.
With the recent authorisation granted by the United States Department of Defence, the Jakarta government is able to purchase eight V-22s with a unit value of around 75 million dollars, or about 66.75 million euros. However, fully equipped with missile warning and radar warning systems, electronic countermeasures, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), mission planning systems and the training of pilots and mechanics, the total estimated value of the purchase is $2 billion, about 1.78 billion euros.
What is the secret of the V-22 Osprey that Washington considers it to be one of its jewels and limits its possibilities of export to third countries? The answer is simple, its advanced technology and great capabilities to fulfill a wide variety of missions, which makes it to be in service in the military forces of land, sea and air. In essence, the V-22 is a hybrid between an airplane and a helicopter, a joint service multirole combat aircraft utilizing tiltrotor technology to combine the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. To land, it tilts its rotors again - in this case backwards - and descends vertically until it lands on the ground.
Its ability to take off and land as if it were a helicopter and to travel at the speed of a turboprop aircraft, far superior to that of any helicopter, makes it a highly desirable aircraft for all countries that can afford it. It reaches the speed of a turboprop aircraft, which is of the order of 275 knots (509 km/h), well above the fastest of all helicopters, the twin-turbine CH-47 Chinook, which is at 160 knots (300 km/h), and well above the Bell 412 of the Indonesian Army.
Another feature in which the Chinook is far below the Osprey is in the radius of action in operations, which in the case of the first is 370 kilometers while the second exceeds 720 kilometers. However, the load capacity of the V-22 is no more than 9 tons or 24 fully equipped seated soldiers and that of the CH-47 is about 11 tons or 33 soldiers.
As is evident, the Trump Administration also benefits greatly from the sale, as it helps Indonesia "develop and maintain a strong and effective self-defense capability, which contributes to the national interest of the United States," Defense Department sources say.
The fact that the executives in Washington and Jakarta have very good relations in all fields, that the Indonesian Armed Forces will have the Osprey in a few years and that the archipelago is located in an excellent strategic location between the South China Sea and Australia, will provide the Pentagon with an important land logistics base for its huge fleet of V-22s.
In addition, it promotes interoperability between the military procedures of both countries, serves as a backup for joint amphibious operations and is of great importance in the event that the US Marines have to carry out operations with the MV-22 to deal with crisis situations in the region.
For Indonesia, the potential provided by the unique Osprey will have a direct impact on improving capacities for immediate relief, rapid delivery of humanitarian aid to affected and displaced people and urgent evacuation of the injured in a nation located in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of high seismic and volcanic activity that suffers around 7,000 tremors per year, some of them of very high intensity.
The most severe and one of the largest in history was the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake on December 26, 2004. Measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale, it killed around 220,000 people. Closer to home, in September 2019, the islands of Ambon and Ceram were struck by an earthquake that killed 30 people and injured 165. In October 2010, the island of Sumatra suffered a 7.5 earthquake and a subsequent tsunami that killed 454 people. In September 2009, also in Sumatra, another 7.6 earthquake left around 1,200 dead and about 3,000 injured.
The Osprey configuration that Indonesia has been interested in is the so-called MV-22 Block C, the same one operated by the US Marine Corps. It is also the one acquired by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which in mid-May received the first two of the 17 units purchased in July 2015 for a total of about 3 billion dollars, or about 2.67 billion euros.
A joint project of the large American industrial corporations Bell and Boeing, the series production of the V-22 began 20 years ago and the 400th unit was delivered to the US Air Force Space Operations Command only 6 days ago, on June 2.