SYDNEY — On two recent occasions, a pair of Sukhoi Su-30 fighters have taken off from their base near the old Indonesian trading port of Makassar and flown far across the Indonesian archipelago to intercept unidentified aircraft.
One of the mystery planes, a light aircraft being ferried from Darwin in northern Australia to its new owners in the Philippines, was chased a long distance before being forced to land in Manado, a city on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The other, an executive jet flying Saudi officials to Brisbane ahead of the Group-20 meeting, was ordered to land in the Indonesian city of Kupang on the island of Timor.
In both cases, fines were imposed and the planes were allowed to continue to their destinations. It is unclear whether the Indonesian pilots could have taken any hostile action, since missiles have not yet been delivered for the Russian-made jets.
Ready to rumble
But the confrontations underline a shift in military capability among the nations of Southeast Asia. A decade ago, the Indonesian air force had little advanced combat capability, as its fighters were largely grounded by a lack of spare parts due to economic stringency and arms embargoes related to human rights abuses.