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Indonesia, US Deepen Defense Ties Amid Exercises and Arms Deals

Sep. 30, 2013 - 06:52PM   |  
By TIARMA SIBORO   |   Comments
Indonesian and Australian antiterror troops 'take over' a tanker ship Sept. 13 during a joint counterterrorism exercise at the Indonesia Peace and Security Center in Sentul, Bogor-West Java.
Indonesian and Australian antiterror troops 'take over' a tanker ship Sept. 13 during a joint counterterrorism exercise at the Indonesia Peace and Security Center in Sentul, Bogor-West Java. (Agence France-Presse)
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JAKARTA — US and Indonesian military ties are growing as evidenced by US participation in the recent US-Indonesian joint-funded Coun­terterrorism Exercise (CTX) held Sept. 5-13 at Indonesia’s peacekeeping forces training center in Sentul, West Java.

Participants included all special operations forces of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries, plus eight counterpart states: the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Russia.

However, Indonesia’s best special operations force, the infamous Kopassus, was excluded from participating in the CTX due to past US complaints about human rights abuses by the unit during the 1999 East Timor crisis, in which civilians were murdered, kidnapped and tortured.

The Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) is implementing military modernization efforts, but excluding Kopassus remains a problem, experts say. The TNI suffered from the US arms embargo after the 1999 crisis. The Kopassus are the best trained and disciplined unit within TNI, and exclusion from training opportunities by the US will be difficult.

The US allowed the Kopassus to attend the CTX, but only as observers. The CTX was divided into several programs, including a tabletop exercise, practical exercise, discussions, information sharing and special simulation.

“Kopassus, just like US special operations, operates according to rule of law and under the direct control by civilian authorities,” said US Army Col. Mike Lwin, with Special Operations Command-Pacific, who led the US team to the CTX. “We know there are some problems in the past, and there are some processes that we are working through on both sides, but I think in general, we look forward to increase engagement over the future in accordance with our political direction with Kopassus. We see the need for increased relationships, and we are moving there. But we take guidance, of course, from our civilian leaders.”

Though planning for the CTX began in April 2012, a Kopassus source said the decision to exclude the elite unit from the tabletop exercise was made only days before the event officially kicked off. The tabletop exercise was fully funded by the US military.

In the wake of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations that followed the tsunami in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2004, the US reviewed its restriction on arms sales and military cooperation with Indonesia. The US imposed the restriction after the Indonesian government failed to stop violence from taking place in East Timor amid the 1999 referendum for independence.

The revision was implemented in stages, first by lifting the embargo on US sales of non-lethal equipment. Contemporary threats — including terrorism and the rise in tension in the South China Sea — were part of the US motivation for change.

“Respecting the rule of law is a must, and countering terrorism should not be left alone to the hand of legal enforcers as it requires total response from all elements of the nation,” Indonesian Deputy Defense Minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin told Defense News. “We could achieve success in countering terrorism if we are able to deeply understand the philosophic and universal principle of terrorism, which has now been able to develop its modus operandi, ranging from the low-level to the high-level intensity.”

During his recent visit to Indonesia, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the US plan to sell a fleet of AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to the Indonesian Army for $500 million. As part of the package, the US also will offer training to Indonesian pilots on tactics, techniques and procedures for operating the Apache. The TNI expects to receive the first two Apaches by 2014, with final delivery by 2019.

In 2011, the US agreed to sell 24 used F-16 Block 25 fighter aircraft for US $700 million. As part of the deal, the US will upgrade the fighter jets to Block 52, to include supplying 18 air-to-ground missiles and 36 captive air training missiles.

The two squadrons of F-16s will join 16 Russian-made Sukhoi fighters — eight Su-27s and eight Su-30s — for the Indonesian Air Force. Another squadron of South Korean-built T-50 Golden Eagle trainer jets is scheduled to arrive in 2014.

The Indonesian Navy is also undergoing modernization. Next year, the Indonesian Marine Corps will receive light patrol vessels, amphibious tanks and rockets. Two South Korean-made Chang Bongo-class submarines are slated to arrive next year, followed by a joint project with Indonesia’s state-owned PT Penataran Angkatan Laut (PT PAL) to produce a similar type of submarine as part of technology transfer agreement with South Korea.

The submarines’ technology is an upgrade from the German-designed HDW 209 and 214 types.

Indonesia requires more than just three submarines to safeguard its maritime coasts and exclusive economic zone. The Malacca Strait is one of the busiest waterways in the world. An ideal number of submarines for Indonesia would be 18 to 24 vessels.

On Sept. 24, the Indonesian Army began receiving German-made Leopard main battle tanks. The Indonesian Army has purchased 104 Leopard tanks and 50 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and other assorted vehicles from Germany.

The Indonesian government has decided to modernize its weaponry systems by allocating a budget of no less than 57 trillion rupiahs (US $5 billion) during the 2010-2014 fiscal period out of 156 trillion rupiahs allocated for the defense sector during the period.

Indonesia has pursued two mechanisms for procurement — imports and domestic development. Apart from PT PAL, Indonesia also has PT Pindad, a state-owned arms producer, and PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PT DI), which produces military aircraft. A number of aircraft for the Indonesian Air Force has come through the cooperation with PT DI, such as the Bell 412 helicopter, Bolcow 105 and Cassa 212.

For the Army, PT Pindad has supplied handguns and rifles.

The company also provides ammunition for small-caliber weapons as well as an armored vehicle, the six-wheel Panser APS.

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