JANE'S-(IDB) : Indonesia’s attainment of political respectability has yet to be matched by a corresponding increase in strategic power. Jakarta has made clear its hopes of changing this, but whether it has the political will to fund the military transformation remains to be seen.
Turning the country’s armed forces, the TNI, into an effective military by regional standards will involve costly investments in the navy and air force, as well as the enactment of bold reforms, so far avoided by the government, to reduce the autonomy of local military commanders and divest them of their off-budget income sources. Procurement has received far more attention than reform, although both are needed.
Growing public awareness of the air force’s dreadful safety record has helped push aircraft procurement up the national agenda. In February the US, having rehabilitated Indonesia as a defence partner, agreed to sell the country 24 second-hand F-16A/Bs to supplement the 10 new Sukhoi fighters (Su-27s and Su-30s) already in the air force’s inventory. The announcement in April of the purchase of 16 KAI T-50 advanced trainer aircraft from South Korea for USD400 million, following on from a late 2010 order for eight EMB-341 Super Tucano trainer/light attack aircraft (with a second tranche of eight likely to follow), should help the TNI to realise the potential of its fighter fleet.
The trajectory of Indonesia’s air force development lies somewhere between the cautious “minimum essential force” outlined in general terms by Air Chief Marshal Imam Sufaat and the overambitious 180-strong Sukhoi fleet aspired to by Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro. In April the Indonesian press quoted a senior air force officer as saying that his service aimed to field 10 modern fighter squadrons by 2025 (giving them seven more to procure, or just five if the T-50s and Super Tucanos are deployed in dual fighter-trainer roles).
The potential purchase of 24 Eurofighter Typhoons – about which Jakarta has reportedly contacted the UK government – would signal Indonesia’s seriousness about achieving this target and mark a step-change in the TNI’s horizons, although it would add yet another aircraft type to an inventory which, like Malaysia’s, is beginning to contain an unruly mix of kit. “Purnomo is really talking about aspirations; there is a huge gap between desired needs and what Indonesia can realistically achieve,” says Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a former assistant minister of foreign affairs and now of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). “At the level of real procurement, the government will still be aiming only for the minimum.”
In any case, fighter procurement may be curtailed by an urgent need to update the TNI’s airlift capability. In January the TNI announced that it was to spend USD64 million modernising five of its C-130Bs and discussions continue with the US and others about procuring additional, second-hand C-130s.
The air force’s targets are achievable, but only if the government follows through on promises to ramp up investment in defence. The Indonesian economy has been growing strongly at around 6 per cent per year and Jakarta has increased the 2011 defence budget to USD6.5 billion in line with that. However, the defence budget has yet to break through the 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) threshold, despite presidential assurances that it would top 1.5 per cent by 2014. The forecast 2014 defence budget of around USD8.8 billion would be more in the 1.2 per cent range.
As with dreams of a 180-aircraft fighter fleet, the navy’s ambitions for a 40-boat submarine force as outlined in 2010 by the navy’s deputy chief are highly implausible. The recognition that an island nation such as Indonesia requires an effective navy – naval investment is the highest priority of all, according to Anwar – is, however, resulting in much-needed investment coming on stream.
An order for two submarines (Russian or South Korean) is expected to be placed in 2011. As the navy prepares to scrap many of its ageing warships, it is aiming to add to its fleet of four new Diponegoro-class corvettes by procuring up to 20 frigates, as well as 30 to 40 corvettes and fast patrol craft. Domestic shipbuilder PT Pal and Dutch partner Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding are expected to begin construction of the first new frigate in 2011, but it is unclear whether the navy’s full requirement of 20 ships is currently envisaged.
Indonesia’s urgent need to rejuvenate its offshore patrol capability has yet to yield the kind of numbers required to effectively monitor the country’s vast coastline. However, the domestic construction of a new fleet of Lürssen PB-57 large patrol craft is continuing and negotiations with Italy about the construction of fast patrol boats are expected to conclude in 2011. This all indicates progress, but the TNI needs 300 new surface ships, Anwar argues, if it is to monitor and control Indonesia’s territorial waters effectively.
Though army procurement will generally take a backseat to the costly process of re-equipping the air force and navy, army aviation in particular has seen some investment. A mix of 12 Mil Mi-35M ‘Hind’ attack helicopters and Mi-17 ‘Hip’ transport helicopters ordered from Russia in 2003 have now been delivered and PT Dirgantara Indonesia finalised a USD250 million deal at the end of 2010 to license-produce 20 Bell 412EP utility helicopters.
The government plans to build a modern defence industry to help justify its military spending andIndonesia’s first defence offset policy is expected to come into effect in 2011 (it will require 30-40 per cent of contracted work to be carried out domestically). Industrial partnerships – especially the burgeoning defence relationship with South Korea - will make or break these aspirations. However, the determination to bankroll TNI modernisation will be most essential of all. When the defence budget finally cracks 1.5 per cent of GDP, it will be time to take Indonesian ambitions seriously.