Jakarta/Bandung. The military has pledged to evaluate its weaponry grant scheme after an F-16 fighter jet reportedly malfunctioned and caught fire as the pilot prepared for a flyover at a ceremony to honor President Joko Widodo.
The plane was one of 24 used jets gifted to the Indonesian Air Force under a grant scheme from the United States.
Under the scheme, Indonesia was obliged to pay for an overhaul of the engines and electronics and routine maintenance fees.
“We will evaluate all [granted jets]. This is the first time such an incident has occurred,” Indonesian Air Force Chief of Staff Air Marshall Agus Supriatna saidon Thursday, just hours after the incident.
The F-16 was one of four fighter jets that were scheduled to take off from Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in East Jakarta and perform a flyover above the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) headquarters in nearby Cilangkap, East Jakarta, for a ceremony where Joko was bestowed honorary membership in the elite corps.
The ceremony went ahead with the three other F-16s.
“The F-16 had a malfunction,” military chief Gen. Moeldoko said in Bandung, where he was inspecting security preparations for the Asian-African Conference.
“We will conduct an investigation. The [F-16] was the latest to be delivered from America.”
The incident occurred at 8.15 a.m. on Thursday, Agus said.
“As the plane was taking off, the pilot noticed that some warning lights lit up, suggesting a malfunction,” he said. “The plane was already at take-off speed, so the pilot decided to abort take-off.”
Agus said the pilot, Lt. Col. Firman Dwi Cahyono, had no chance of bringing the plane to a halt, and instead performed a sharp turn to avoid plowing into a nearby civilian neighborhood.
The maneuver created a spark and the plane caught fire.
“I appreciate the pilot’s decision to prevent civilian casualties. He walked out of the plane with injuries to his arm and shoulder. He is now being treated. The pilot is well,” Agus said.
The nature of the malfunction is yet to be determined.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla also demanded a full investigation into the incident as well as an examination of all jets under the grant scheme to look for similar issues.
“Every last one [of the F-16s] must be checked, especially since the planes are not brand new,” he said.
House Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon also called for an evaluation. “This [grant scheme] is part of an erroneous policy of the past. What we need is to evaluate the provision of such planes,” he said.
Fadli noted that with Joko greatly increasing the military’s annual spending, Indonesia must end the policy of purchasing used military equipment.