Thu 2 Feb 2006
Indonesia is considering buying submarines from Russia, South Korea and China under a plan to acquire 12 of them before 2024, the navy said Jan. 25.
”We have received offers from several countries, including Russia. If we can buy them at cheaper prices, why not? We don’t want to depend on one country,” said navy spokesman First Admiral Malik Yusuf.
South Korea and China have also made similar offers, he said.
Yusuf said Indonesia’s capability to defend its waters remained weak due to a lack of submarines, frigates and corvettes. The navy currently operates two German-made submarines.
Indonesia is located in an area of immense geopolitical uncertainty, competition, and risk, and it comes as no suprise that Jakarta is interested in strengthening its naval forces. Ties with neighbor Malaysia have been strained by historical conflict, territorial and resource disputes, and security uncertainty; with Kuala Lumpur engaged in a program of defense modernization and armament, there is immense pressure on the Indonesian government to defend its security position by doing likewise. The geographical proximity of rising power China, furthermore, along with the direct proximity Singapore (which has the most sophisticated and powerful military forces in the region), make Indonesia’s geopolitical situation particularly precarious.
That Jakarta is focusing on upgrading its naval forces comes as no surprise either. The country’s greatest resources revolve around the sea: natural resource deposits and especially commercial transit through the pirate-infested but heavily trafficked Malacca Strait. Ensuring that this commerce continues to flow unimpeded is essential to the country’s economic prosperity; ensuring that Indonesia maintains a substantial degree of control and influence over the local seas is essential the country’s national security and geopolitical clout. Unfortunately for Jarkata, its military forces have eroded over the past decade as its economy has floundered and a drawn out occupation of East Timor (ended a few years ago) soured military ties with the United States. The Indonesian military as it stands is dangerously weak.
Enter Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elected in 2004 as a reformist president. He has made it a priority to clean up corruption, stimulate healthy economic growth, reform the government, and rebuild Indonesia’s standing as a regional power. He has been remarkably successful in achieving these objectives, and recently accomplished his cherished goal of restoring military ties with the United States. As part of his program to rebuild Indonesia’s power, he has made defense modernization a priority. Improving Indonesia’s naval forces is an obviously central pillar of this policy, which is why Indonesia is now negotiating the submarine deal.
Since the United States severed defense ties in the early 1990s, Indonesia has come to rely on Russia to import the limited quantities of military hardware it can afford to buy, such as a handful of Sukhoi attack aircraft. As the article notes, “President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono plans to visit Russia in June to discuss defense cooperation.” Now that the archipelago state is flush with cash, she is prepared to go on another buying spree. This time, however, the United States has restored ties and will probably compete for any large future contracts. By securing this submarine deal, Moscow aims to strengthen ties with Jakarta and hopefully swing future orders her way. Because the Russian military has been (and to a degree continues to be) cash-strapped, the Russian defense industry has relied upon export orders to sustain itself; strong sales abroad are the sine qua non of the research and development necessary to keeping Russian arms competitive. The Indonesian deal is one component of that greater scheme.