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Indonesia’s Deputy Defense Minister Discusses Nation’s Defense Modernization

Gusty Da Costa

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Muhammad Herindra has served as Indonesian deputy defense minister under President Joko Widodo since December 2020. As a senior Army officer, he served as chief of the General Staff of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, as well as commander of the Army Special Forces Kopassus in 2015 and commander of the Regional Military Command III/Siliwangi in 2016. He graduated top of his class from the Indonesian Military Academy in 1987. 

What are the main goals of Indonesia’s defense modernization plans?

Indonesian Deputy Defense Minister Muhammad Herindra Indonesian Ministry of Defense

President Joko Widodo has directed Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto to draft a long-term master plan of state defense, including a plan for the modernization of primary weapons systems/defense and security equipment. The drafting of the modernization plan considers several priorities. First, the geopolitical and geostrategic situation. Second, prediction of threats. Third, the development of ready-for-combat defense capacity. And, fourth, consideration of budget allocation. 

We study the constellation of current global politics and security, and we need to take a position by strengthening internal defense to prevent the impact of security instability that could happen at any time. 

A component of the Indonesian military posture development policy is the modernization of the main weapons systems, as well as the defense and security apparatus. The structure of the Indonesian military is based on the evolution of the circumstances and surroundings of our country’s defense. Threat dynamics have an impact on development, thus efforts to improve the professionalism, welfare and combat readiness of Indonesian military personnel should be coordinated with modernization of defense and security technology. 

In developing Indonesian military postures, the policy is implemented by procuring primary weapons systems/defense and security equipment for ready-for-combat, long-distance precision and the achievement of interoperability. Moreover, the policy seeks to increase the number of reserve components for the Army, Navy and Air Force deployed across Indonesia. 

The policy for the modernization of the primary weapons systems is also in line with the prioritized program in the development of defense, mainly for the absorption of defense technology, the development of human resources and the growth of defense facilities. 

For the absorption of technology, Indonesia’s strategic state-owned enterprises in defense sectors have developed several new variants of the weapons systems. One such enterprise is Penataran Angkatan Laut (PT PAL), which is an Indonesian state-owned enterprise that manufactures ships for military and civilian use and conduct repairs and maintenance on ships and engineering. PT PAL Indonesia has succeeded in developing the U-209 submarine as well as guided-missile frigates. Another, PT Dirgantara Indonesia, has succeeded in developing missiles and uncrewed vehicles, such as the UAV Male [unmanned aerial vehicle, medium-altitude, long endurance]. PT Len Industri, meanwhile, has developed ground-control intercept radar. Then there is PT Dahana, which is producing explosives material and has developed propellant composite and ball grain powder propellant. 

Indonesian forces mark the military’s 77th anniversary in Semarang in October 2022. REUTERS

Can you provide specifics about the timeline and budget for these modernization efforts?

The development of the main power of the Indonesian military is aligned with the national long-term development plan … implemented over 15 years, from 2010 to 2024. The five-year or midterm development plan outlines the national plan. The plan emphasizes four main elements: rematerialization, revitalization, relocation and procurement. To implement this plan, the government has gradually increased its defense budget. In 2023, it allocated 134.32 trillion Indonesian rupiah [U.S. $8.8 billion].

We are aware that the current geopolitical and geostrategic situation has led to an increase in global military firepower. This is evident from the rising defense spending of the major military spending nations.

Let’s compare Indonesia with other countries in ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]. Indonesia’s defense budget consists of a smaller percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) at 0.64%, compared to the defense budget of Brunei Darussalam, which is 4.12% of its own GDP, or Singapore at 3.23%. Even East Timor [Timor-Leste], a newly independent nation, allocates 1% of its GDP for defense.  

Aware of the issue, our government initiated a policy to transform defense spending into defense investment. The approach is in line with the instruction of President Widodo. The policy is meant to optimize the defense budget allocation and change the mindset or thinking in procuring the imported primary weapons systems. This policy will help the development of Indonesia’s defense industry. 

In addition to procuring defense assets from domestic providers, the Defense Ministry is also conducting procurement from foreign markets. One recent procurement is the purchase of one squadron of twin-engine, lightweight Rafale fighter jets. The fighters are produced by the French company Dassault Aviation. The procurement of these fighters strengthens Indonesia’s Air Force weapons systems. 

The purchase of the Rafale aircraft is the biggest purchase conducted by the Indonesian government. We cannot deny that the increasing power of a weapons system can be a barometer for the defense power display of a country. For Indonesia, this issue has a specific policy reach,
the modernization of the primary
weapons systems. 

The first of five C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft acquired by the Indonesian Air Force arrives in Indonesia in March 2023 REUTERS

How will the modernization plans affect the character of the military, and how will the changes impact it?

The efforts to increase the human resources quality of the Indonesian military are aimed at making them more professional and reliable in operating modern and advanced primary defense systems. The mechanism to improve human resources will be conducted by sending the personnel of the Indonesian military to study in foreign countries or to the producers of the primary weapons systems. While at home, the mechanism to increase the quality is conducted by education and training programs, particularly related to the transfer of technology and the transfer of knowledge. 

Related to the efforts to increase human resources, we emphasize that the Indonesian military has a doctrine of “Sishankamrata” — the total people’s defense and security systems. It means that we develop strong synergy with other elements of the nation. This doctrine should be understood as a total defense system that involves all citizens, areas of the country and other national resources.

How is Indonesia’s position on the global supply chain for military hardware affected by current conflicts and tensions around the region and world?

The dynamic of global defense and security is evolving rapidly. Nobody can foresee when the current, more than a year-old war between Russia and Ukraine will come to a conclusion. Together with the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, there is also an increase in tension in the South China Sea and with Taiwan. Indonesia now occupies a key spot on the supply map for military equipment used throughout the world as a result of all these conflicts and tensions. 

The modernization of Indonesia’s defense and security equipment is necessary to protect the state’s sovereignty and not to attack other countries. Indonesia had no power projection in procuring military weapons and equipment. We need to be strong; thus, prosperity and security must be in line.

If the local consumers — in this case, the Indonesian military and police — do not become the buyers or users of the weapons goods produced by our national industry, then the modernization of our major weapons systems and the attempts to establish the national defense industry will not be successful. In this manner, we create chances for our domestic products on the international market by acting as buyers of goods from the national defense sector.

Moreover, our defense procurement department also purchases primary weaponry equipment from other nations. If there is no domestic supply of defense equipment, foreign procurement is used. To ensure proper usage and maintenance, it should be followed by the transfer of technology and expertise.

Adm. Yudo Margono, right, commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, greets outgoing commander Gen. Andika Perkasa at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in December 2022. REUTERS

What measures are in place to ensure that the procurement process for armaments is transparent and fair?

We have the primary weapons systems procurement and purchase mechanism, E-Proc, or electronic procurement. This mechanism serves the entire process from requisitioning, ordering, and purchasing goods and other related services that we conduct online. 

What steps are being taken to address territorial disputes and illegal activities in Indonesia’s sea, air and land spaces?

For all problems related to territorial issues, we always take diplomatic channels and a persuasive approach without compromising the values of our sovereignty. We must pay more attention to sea territory because we constantly face border violation issues in our exclusive economic zone [EEZ]. The violations of the borders are incited by illegal fishing activities and control over our sea territory, which is rich with natural resources like oil and gas in the island of Natuna areas, for example.

Regarding widespread violations of our exclusive economic zone, we have adopted the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] and ratified it into law in December 1985. UNCLOS is internationally accepted and is not a one-sided claim by Indonesia.

The threat of terrorism is one of the transnational crimes that warrants our particular attention, along with threats to our EEZ. As a result, we conduct joint patrols of the Malacca Strait with Malaysia and Singapore to maintain security.

For land territory, we have intensified joint patrols with Malaysia, especially on the land border with Kalimantan [the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo]. We have a collaborative forum like the General Border Committee Malaysia-Indonesia, or GBC Malindo, that addresses various illegal activities, including illegal migration, drugs, terrorist group movements, radical groups, among others. 

A member of Indonesia’s elite Navy unit, known as Kopaska, participates in an anti-terrorism drill at an airport in Surabaya in December 2022. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

How will the government ensure that the defense modernization plans benefit the Indonesian people and contribute to the country’s overall development?

The government is continuously working to boost the economy of the Indonesian people. Our government’s Peningkatan Penggunaan Produksi Dalam Negeri (P3DN) program is one such attempt. P3DN intends to increase production to generate the growth and empowerment of industries in Indonesia. The ministries and government organizations in Indonesia have been instructed by President Widodo to forgo acquiring imported goods if the necessary requirements can be satisfied domestically or if the goods can be produced domestically. The government’s goal is to transform defense spending into defense investment, thus this is in line with that goal.

For instance, the plans to satisfy the demands of the state defense system for 2023 were established with the composition that the component and proportion of the national industry is 29.5% and the local content is 33.5%. Hence, we estimated that Indonesia’s defense spending will contribute 20.914 trillion Indonesian rupiah [U.S. $1.37 billion] to the country’s GDP. The policy has been put into practice.  

In the latest policy, our Defense Ministry, for example, has signed several procurement contracts for tactical vehicles produced by PT Pindad, including the Jeep Maung and an electric motorcycle. The tactical vehicle is meant for combat units and territorial units. The Defense Ministry has also signed a contract to purchase thousands of units of ammunition from PT Pindad in East Java.  

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia.  

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