Tue, 10 Oct 2000

Indonesia must reduce defense dependence

By Amal Ihsan Hadian

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Military received bad news shortly before its anniversary on Oct. 5. The United States Congress managed to pass a law banning continued military aid to Indonesia.

Since September 1999 the U.S. has been imposing an embargo on arms and spare parts and withdrawn international military training and education cooperation (IMET) and foreign military funds.

Many Indonesians have criticized the stance of Congress. However, it would not be fair to judge the Congress as the cause of the problem. The main problem is in defense policy itself. This is a logical consequence, given that our defense development is highly dependent on outside parties, the prerequisite being healthy political conditions and international relations.

This awareness should drive the military (TNI) to apply a "mixed fleet" policy in the supply of heavy equipment such as aircraft and warships. Any trouble in relations with one country would therefore not disrupt defense and its development plans.

Currently almost all heavy equipment and weaponry is obtained from the United States and western European countries. These include rifles such as M16s (U.S.) or SS1/FNCs (Belgium) and aircraft such as F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-5 Tigers and A-4 Skyhawks, while the newest BAe HS Hawk 100/200s are from Great Britain, a US ally.

With a mixed fleet policy, equipment and weaponry should be procured from sources with different political positions to avoid uniform political views which could one day disrupt integrity and defense building.

In the early years of the New Order Indonesia's navy and air force fleets which had been bought from Russia had to be grounded when the supply of spare parts was disrupted.

Ideological barriers in the purchase of equipment are no longer relevant. The collapse of communism in Russia, the winds of change in Eastern Europe and political changes in China have ended the captive market in the world market for weaponry.

Also, experience under colonial rule and the struggle in maintaining independence from 1945 to 1949 shows that no country can be relied on in helping Indonesia's defense. The position of each country can change in accordance its strategic view of defense.

The US secret involvement in the PRRI-Permesta rebellion, China's tacit support for the (now banned) Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) coup attempt in 1965, and, lastly, the strains in Indonesia-Australian relations over East Timor all serve to prove the premise that threats and disturbances can emerge in any form and from any country.

In the context of regional politics, the campaign to establish the "ASEAN collective strength system", as cited by military researcher Bilveer Singh -- aimed at having uniform main weaponry among ASEAN members such as F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-5 Tigers, A- 4 Skyhawks and Hawk 100/200s -- has not been effective.

The purchase of F-18 Hornets by Thailand, MiG-29s by Malaysia and endeavors to purchase Su-30s by Indonesia signify the end of the collective strength campaign.

Also, the establishment of an ASEAN collective strength system may actually be at the expense of a country's interests because countries are often persuaded to imitate neighbors' arms buildups.

Indonesia's purchase of Hawk 100/200s from Britain is an example; Jakarta might have made the deal because it was following the ASEAN collective strength scenario.

The deal was entered into despite the fact that in actuality Indonesia needed a multi-role fighter aircraft with a greater combat range such as the A-4 Skyhawk, in order to cover the extent of Indonesian airspace.

Another factor relevant to the mixed fleet policy is Indonesia's technology mastery and the state of development of its defense industry. One of the weaknesses of the mixed fleet policy is high operational and maintenance costs because varied weaponry requires a greater variety of maintenance equipment and operational spare parts.

This particular weakness may be overcome by developing the proper technology by the existing defense industry in order to reduce dependence on imports -- which also affects the level of operational and maintenance costs.

One success story is that of Iran when it managed to maintain the operation of its F-14 Tomcats following the Islamic revolution despite a US arms and spare parts' embargo.

Indonesia's high-tech industries, such as IPTN, Pindad and Dahana, should therefore be supported and encouraged to develop the defense industry so that Indonesia can achieve self- sufficiency.

It is to be hoped that in the future the Army will no longer need to import its uniforms and boots and the Navy and Air Force no longer need to travel abroad merely to maintain and up-grade their warships and fighters.

The writer is an observer of defense issues based in Jakarta.