Indonesia’s defense modernization proceeds with cargo aircraft, naval frigates

Indonesia’s defense modernization proceeds with cargo aircraft, naval frigates

Tom Abke

Frigates, transport planes and fighter jets are among the major items on the Indonesian military’s procurement list as the national government moves forward with its defense modernization initiative.

Two United Kingdom-designed naval frigates are set to be built in a shipyard in Surabaya, East Java, under a contract between the state-owned PT PAL and Babcock International, a U.K. defense engineering firm. Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, pictured, attended the signing ceremony during the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London in mid-September 2021, according to Indonesia’s Defence Ministry, known as Kemhan.

“Working with our Indonesian colleagues this contract will see Arrowhead 140 frigates built in Indonesia, by the local workforce, contributing directly to the social and economic value of its sovereign shipbuilding community and country as a whole,” Babcock CEO David Lockwood said in a company statement.

The first frigate is expected to be seaworthy by 2023, when many of Indonesia’s large defense assets such as ships and aircraft are nearing the end of their life cycles, Evan Laksmana, an Indonesian defense analyst at the Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told FORUM. “Most of our platforms on average are about 35 to 45 years old, so the need to replace is pretty high.”

Indonesia also could benefit from narrowing its list of suppliers, Laksmana said. “Indonesia has one of the highest number of suppliers for military technology — like about 32, 33 across the board,” he said. “That’s pretty high, and it’s not always coherent in how we do things, which means our ability to detect, to have better information, intelligence for command and control is spotty across the different services, especially when we don’t have good joint force programs and systems.”

Prabowo met in London with defense industry leaders, including from companies specializing in air defense, autonomous vehicles, aircraft, ship cannons, armored vehicles, and weapons and ammunition, according to Kemhan.

In early September, the Indonesian Air Force’s chief of staff toured a production facility of the aerospace and defense firm Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia, in the United States. Air Marshal Fadjar Prasetyo inspected the assembly line of the C-130J Hercules transport plane, five of which are being built to replace C-130s used by Indonesia since the 1960s.

Lockheed also has been discussing a potential deal to provide Indonesia with the latest version of its F-16 fighter plane, the F-16 Block 72.

“With 34 F-16s already, the Indonesian Air Force has existing F-16 support equipment, spares, and trained pilots and maintenance personnel in place,” the company said in a May 2021 news release. “With this F-16 experience and infrastructure already in place, the F-16 Block 72 would allow for a more smooth, efficient transition and cost-effective operations because initial investments are complete.”

Prasetyo announced in February 2021 that Indonesia would purchase eight F-15EX fighter jets manufactured by the U.S. firm Boeing.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.