Indonesian defense planners prepare to secure new capital

Indonesian defense planners prepare to secure new capital

Top Stories | Jan 19, 2020:

Tom Abke

As natural disasters and urban congestion push Indonesia to move its capital from Jakarta to the province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, the country’s military is building new defense infrastructure and writing fresh policy to defend the new seat of government. The strategic advantages offered by the new location are matched by new challenges.

The government of President Joko Widodo hopes the new inland capital will be relatively secure from the storms, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters that threaten Jakarta. Urban planners also hope to avoid the current capital’s plight of chronic traffic congestion and heavy air pollution. (Pictured: Indonesian President Joko Widodo and East Kalimantan Gov. Isran Noor inspect land planned for Indonesia’s new capital in December 2019.)

Shifting the leadership of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and a host of personnel and defense assets promises to be a sizable challenge but one the military is prepared to undertake, Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto told parliamentarians in early November 2019.

“In a state of crisis or war, the capital city of a country will become a center of gravity that will certainly be attacked by the enemy to its full strength,” he said. “Hence, the development of a defense system in the capital city of a country is something of absolute importance for Indonesia.”

The new capital will occupy about 180,000 hectares near Borneo’s east coast, flanked by East Kalimantan’s North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara regencies, Marshal Hadi added. “The placement of TNI forces and other military bases will be in North Penajam Paser,” he said, alongside the presidential palace, a legislative complex and the offices of ministries, state institutions and foreign embassies.

The scope and scale of military redeployment needed to defend the new capital will be considerable, according to Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. TNI headquarters will be relocated, as will the leadership of the Army, Air Force and Navy, Laksmana wrote in a November 2019 report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. A new Capital Security Regional Command (KODAM PIK) for the city’s defense will also have to be established, he added.

The new Army headquarters and regional command will require about 15,000 personnel, he explained, “including infantry and cavalry brigades, as well as special forces units.”

Proposals call for the Indonesian Navy to add a new “armada-level” force, a division-level marine unit and a primary naval base to complement the two already in the Kalimantan region, he stated. The Air Force will need new bases and facilities to accompany the relocation of its headquarters, including the possible deployment of two aviation squadrons that have as many as 16 new F-16V fighter aircraft. “The new capital will have significant strategic implications,” Laksmana emphasized, beyond just environmental concerns.

Because Eastern Kalimantan sits on the Makassar Strait, he added, the new capital will be close to a direct route connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans, one of Indonesia’s major shipping lanes. While this positions the new capital to become a hub of commerce, it also puts it close to “potential conflict flashpoints,” near the tri-border area shared by Malaysia and the Philippines, a region marked by frequent “transnational terrorist and criminal activities.”

“Indonesia should put more resources into expanding and institutionalizing its trilateral cooperation with Malaysia and the Philippines,” he concluded. “That will not only be crucial for the new capital’s security but also assuage concerns over the TNI’s heavy presence.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.