The chief of Indonesia’s new agency shares his ideas for countering piracy, illegal fishing and other threats to stability
Vice Adm. Achmad Taufiqoerrochman, vice chief of the naval staff, has served as chief of the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency, known as Badan Keamanan Laut Republik Indonesia (BAKAMLA), since October 2018.
After graduating from the Indonesian Naval Military Academy in 1985, he was commissioned as an operations officer and served on surface ships and specialized in anti-submarine warfare. He commanded several ships, the escort ship squadron and the fleet’s training command. His performance on his assignments afloat and ashore accelerated his career advancement. As a flag officer, he served as commander of the sea battle task group and fleet commander in chief. He led Indonesia’s Merah Putih (Red and White) Task Force in a 2011 mission to free the Indonesian crew of the M/V Sinar Kudus after Somali pirates seized the cargo ship.
Duta Samudra Task Force collaborated with other established task forces in the region, especially Combined Task Force 151, and had support from Indonesia’s Navy and Army Special Forces. After selection for flag rank in 2011, he became vice governor of the Indonesian Naval Academy, then governor in 2014, and commander in chief of the Western Fleet in 2015. During his tenure, he established the Western Fleet Quick Response that contributed to neutralizing armed robberies and piracy in the Malacca and Singapore straits until no incidents occurred within six months.
Under Taufiqoerrochman, BAKAMLA strives to be a professional maritime security agency that is trusted by national and international maritime communities. The agency seeks to achieve a sovereign, self-reliant Indonesia with a strong character. Launched in 2014, the agency is not part of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, although its top leaders are selected by the president from the Indonesian Navy.
BAKAMLA’s mission is to maintain security and safety in the Indonesian territorial and jurisdictional waters and represent Indonesia as an archipelagic state; to strengthen Indonesia’s identity as a maritime state by making BAKAMLA the guardian of the world’s maritime fulcrum; and to make Indonesia a strong maritime state to protect its national interests.
BAKAMLA’s main roles are to conduct maritime security and safety patrols in Indonesia’s waters and jurisdiction to ensure maritime security and safety issues, including illegal fishing and drug smuggling, can be prevented and will be combated. BAKAMLA has more than 1,000 personnel; 36 seagoing-class vessels, ranging from small boats to 110 meters long; and three regional bases: the western zone base in Batam, the central zone base in Manado and the eastern zone base in Ambon, which include 15 monitoring stations throughout Indonesia.
BAKAMLA, which reports directly to Indonesia’s president, falls under the jurisdiction of the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, is also separate from the Indonesia Sea and Coast Guard, which is under the Ministry of Transportation. BAKAMLA is a stakeholder in Indonesia’s Illegal Fishing Eradication Task Force, which was established by presidential order.FORUM : Your experience in many key career positions led you to become the chief of Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency. Please tell Forum more about the mission of BAKAMLA and how you have transformed the agency.
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: When I received the call from the [Indonesian] president to assume command of BAKAMLA, I was in Rhode Island for the symposium in 2018 [the 23rd International Seapower Symposium at the U.S. Naval War College]. When I returned, I met with the staff of the president and told them that maybe they chose the wrong person to lead BAKAMLA because for 34 years in the Navy, I was always in combatant units. It is difficult to change the mindset from combat to law enforcement — from come and destroy to come and protect. It is difficult to change my mind, way of thinking. But the president said, you must lead BAKAMLA and make the organization become better, so I followed his orders to come to BAKAMLA.
So, we learned first … how is BAKAMLA? Because we never thought about BAKAMLA before. And we found out the president’s order to form BAKAMLA and to become a coast guard function in Indonesia. And also, to develop a training facility and training program for all of BAKAMLA. We needed to define what is the coast guard? I realized that the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is the most experienced after existing for more than 200 years.
As I opened the first pages of the manual of the USCG, I found it very interesting because it said that the USCG is one of seven uniformed institutions in the U.S. The next question is what is a uniformed institution? I realized that it is the sole obligation for the laws and authorities for law enforcement. For BAKAMLA, I changed the uniforms from the long sleeve batik and safari uniform to establish BAKAMLA’s identity as a Coast Guard institution. The first step was to change the mind of the people through a new uniform. So now we have a summer uniform for dress and a combat uniform.
We realized after we learned about the law establishing the agency that we needed to define its mission. The mission of BAKAMLA is the conduct of patrolling for the security and the safety of the sea in maritime interdiction and for the synergy of all stakeholders and make the most of available information to conduct maritime security. We are to conduct the patrolling, planning and organizing. Our mission and capability are connected to conduct the mission, so I told my staff we must prioritize. We must first develop a CONOP, a concept of operation. For the basis fleet we need 77 ships, 29 helicopters, six maritime patrol aircraft, some bases and the most important command center. We realized the budget is fairly limited, so we must prioritize, so we are building the command center first. The simple concept, since we have a lot of stakeholders, is to have regulations and law. We realized we cannot only use unity of command to conduct operations, but we can provide unity of effort, so the BAKAMLA can provide the most reliable information.
Next, we discussed where the first coast guard stations will be located. We will put two with the command center, as it needed to be in a strategic location. For example, Indonesia has four chokepoints of nine chokepoints in the world. We also have four ancillary lines as we can guarantee the security, and then after that other strategic points allowing us a total 21 coast guard stations.
We have a long shoreline. We cannot put each place with a coast guard station. It would be very expensive, so we must have mobile coast guard stations, so they can move dynamically to a sector when we have shifts in priority. We can move assets into some areas and ignore another area. The capabilities are first, surveillance in order to detect and stop illegal activity. And of course, law enforcement and assisting them in maritime interdiction operations. These are my priorities in the future.
FORUM : What are the primary organizations and agencies that you interface with?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: The first is the Navy. They already have assets and already have well-trained people to conduct the operations. We are in close cooperation with the Navy. But additionally, law enforcement, we are closely cooperating with police, after that we partnership with BNN [National Anti-Narcotics Agency of the Republic of Indonesia, or Badan Narkotika Nasional] customs, Transportation Ministry, fisheries and others. But primarily Navy and police. The challenge and opportunity for BAKAMLA is to create synergy among the different agencies conducting law enforcement operations at sea, currently under the provision of several regulations and law. To improve on the situation, BAKAMLA has already proposed to the Indonesian Parliament to ratify the Maritime Security Law Bill, which will strengthen BAKAMLA’s role in coordinating the different agencies.
FORUM : Would you please tell us more about BAKAMLA’s cooperation efforts?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: BAKAMLA is supporting cooperation in Southeast Asia by improving on existing joint activities and capacity-building efforts through trainings, workshops and seminars on maritime issues, information and intelligence exchange to improve maritime security and safety. Future cooperation with the U.S. and ASEAN [Asssociation of Southeast Asian Nations] countries will be increased. This will include cooperation in capacity-building, training, education, information and intelligence sharing. Other cooperation that needs to be improved is cooperation at regional and multinational levels, in the form of coast guard symposia with special topics that are currently the focus of global attention, such as the South China Sea. We recognize that global threats to maritime security are shared by all. We cannot solve the problems individually and need international cooperation to find solutions.
FORUM : What international organizations are you coordinating with to build capabilities and capacity?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: We recognize that the U.S. Coast Guard is the most experienced, but it has different traits and challenges, and the U.S. is very different than Indonesia — from an archipelago view. We learned from other coast guards like Greece. It has similarities to Indonesia with 9,000 islands, the most islands in Europe, I think. We learned from the Philippines, South Korea and Japan as well. We benefit from the complexities of the coast guard functions, the archipelago. We can learn from each other.
Our first challenge is Indonesia’s strategic position and geographic constellation. We have four chokepoints and then we have SLOCs [sea lines of communication]. Under the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] ratification, we must prepare to guard for safe passage in the ocean, which adds to the complexities. Second is the flexibility of the strategic environment in the world. This challenge necessitates that Indonesia must be prepared to engage and influence some big players in the region. Our next challenge is we have a lot of boundaries with many countries, and some of them are still disputed. This will bring a possibility for friction between countries. That is why I have talked with my fellow coast guard commanders in the region to avoid miscalculation at sea, so maybe we can start good relations between countries. For example, recently in July 2019, we detected six fishing fleets from Vietnam, which were escorted by two coast guard ships as they entered the disputed area. I ordered to intercept them to prevent entering our territory. And then since it was the disputed area they were fishing in, we advised them to explore fishing in areas not in the disputed area. We called in the Vietnam Coast Guard and met them at sea. They agreed, and they withdrew their vessels from the area to the north. I think there are good ways to prevent heightening tensions. We realized because they were traditional fishing ships, they may not have maps, or GPS, or know the correct position where they entered into our waters.
FORUM : Beyond meeting at sea, are you also attending international or regional conferences to talk about how to avoid these confrontations?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: We also have an organization called the HACGAM [Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting] to discuss these issues, where we discuss how to cooperate. Also, now our staffs conduct combined exercises. Recently, for the first time our BAKAMLA sent a ship to India to attend a combined exercise for planning and also in Jakarta, the Korean Coast Guard and in August the U.S. Coast Guard sent a ship [CG cutter Stratton] to participate in exercise CARAT [Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training] Indonesia. We also conduct coordinated patrols with the Australian border forces. We sent one ship, and they had one ship also. In October 2019, we will conduct more staff coordination, not only patrol coordinating, and conduct visits.
FORUM : With which countries do you currently conduct border patrol operations?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: We conduct formal border patrols with only Australia, but we also do informal patrols with the Vietnam Coast Guard, so we can meet in the sea so that we can avoid hostilities. We invite them alongside my ship, so commanding officers can meet and discuss and resolve the problem. I think this is the best way to conduct operations.
FORUM : What do you see as the top security concern for Indonesia that BAKAMLA addresses?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: The top priority is to secure the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) then to guarantee the archipelagic sea line obligation of the UNCLOS. Also, we see a priority to make a good order at the sea in my jurisdiction. Lastly, we can keep maintaining our national sovereignty especially at sea. As far as IUU [illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing], we support Task Force 115, led by the Fisheries Ministry per authority of the president. We support them to synergize our efforts. Also, I share with them my experience from when I was in the Navy as a combat and fleet commander. For example, when they began the task force, they had no concept to conduct operations … and I have a capacity for that.
FORUM : Would you talk about the South China Sea, codes of conduct and the importance of all nations complying with an international rules-based order?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: In the South China Sea, we have a border with Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei. We have to stop with the actions outside of UNCLOS — the nine-dash line. It is important to our economic zone. We still stand in legal UNCLOS. Sometimes we have tension in there. Back to my experience as a commander. We send intercepts to the South China Sea because we have detected a lot of significant activities in there. I get some of them, and some are Chinese coast guard. They said, “This is the China fishing ground.” So, I said, “I do not recognize traditional fishing ground. In UNCLOS only have traditional fishing rights, not fishing grounds. As far as fishing grounds rights, we have official agreements between countries.” With Indonesia and Malaysia … since ancient times, a lot of the fisheries of Malaysia, they are fishing in Indonesian waters after UNCLOS with agreement — so not a problem, they are still there. We do not recognize traditional fishing grounds. We still stand in UNCLOS, so we still conduct law enforcement in the region to conduct interdiction.
FORUM : Why is cooperation important with other Southeast Asian countries and the U.S.?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: Reflecting back on my experience as the battle group commander in Somalia … when a merchant ship was hijacked by Somali pirates, I was a battle group commander. The president decided to send a task group and after discussions, he chose me to lead this task group. Because of my experience in 2004. (I remember the U.S. Pacific commander was Adm. Thomas Fargo, of the Fargo doctrine, under which the U.S. sent assets to the region to shape the SLOC). As the commander, I requested permission from the chief of the Navy to send me to the Malacca Strait to advise on the operation. Because, in 2004, hijacking was a big problem in the Malacca Strait and in the past, prior to 2004, they did not have great success in releasing the ships’ hostages, for aircraft, yes, but ships, never. As the commanding officer, I found that out and I immediately actioned, because we heard about it at 5 in evening and they pinpointed the position. Five hours later we finished planning and at 11 p.m. we called special forces to conduct the release operation. But at that time, they had not yet used special operations. It was my choice to withdraw our people or to enforce. I took a risk at the time to enforce using my teams. I had two teams of seven for a total of 14 people. We had five hijackers and 36 hostages. We learned about the situation, and we followed the situation and analyzed the situation and had the good moment at 1 a.m. to start assaulting. We conducted really close-quarter combat. We never prepared for that, so for equipment, we used AK-47s. You can imagine that, an AK-47 with 7.62-caliber at 1.5 meters, so you can imagine when the round hit, the guy’s head blew. We took out all five hijackers and the operation was 100% successful for four reasons. First, we safely released all 36 hostages without injury. Second, all hijackers were neutralized. Third, we had no loss of ship equipment. Finally, we regained the ship safely without any troop casualties in the exchange of fire. I was called by the chief of the Navy to come to Jakarta immediately. I went to Jakarta and all the general officers are there, and the chief asked me to brief the outcome of the operation. First consideration is Adm. Fargo doctrine — if you have success, build on it. If you fail, redesign. I explained and the chief of the Navy said, “You are crazy.” I said, “Yes, sir, if not crazy, I would not win.”
I think, because of that experience, in 2011, the president chose me to lead the task force group to Somalia. In time, I had written about how to respond to Somali pirates for rescue operations. (I received a call from the president at his house. I heard from the office of the president that the Armed Forces had sent 11 resumes of one stars to lead the task group. They asked for other recommendations, and they said they have a crazy captain as a fleet training command commander. I was called to his house. They had a short brief (only half hour), and I received a simple order: Leave tomorrow for Somalia. I realized at the time that we had no contingency plan for Somalia, nor did we have any solid information on the situation. I called some colleagues, like the U.S. Seal squadron commander I knew at U.S. 7th Fleet to gain additional information. We tried to plan based on information we could gather before we set sail at sunset that following night for Somalia — with almost no information. En route, we tried to plan and realized when we got to the Somali basin area that there were a lot of existing forces there besides Task Force 151 to include Task Force 550 and 552, to include other independent deployers from Russia and China. The single question when I arrived was: What are the frigate’s intentions and what was our mandate for this? I said I have a national tasking from my country. The Task Force 151 commander, then led by Rear Adm. Harris Chan of the Singapore Navy, came to my ship, and we received a lot of information to allow us to change our planning. After gaining permission and support from all authorities in the area, the mission could be successfully done by Duta Samudra Task Force.
An important lesson in this is that all of us have the same threats and problems related to maritime security. These problems are impossible to be resolved by an individual country. That is why we need to tighten the cooperation among the countries in the region, and this cooperation will run smoother when we know the other countries’ counterparts personally.
FORUM : Did you obtain any other insights from commanding the Duta Samudera Task Force?
Vice Adm. Taufiqoerrochman: After receiving the authority from the president of the Republic of Indonesia, my first act was to prepare myself and the task force for long range operation that has never been done by the Indonesian Navy up to that moment. An important challenge was that the Indonesian Navy at that time did not have the doctrine for conducting a hostage rescue operation far outside Indonesian jurisdiction required to free the crew of MV Sinar Kudus who was taken hostage by Somali pirates. In view of that, I used the time during the voyage to the operating area to prepare myself by carefully studying and training the units under my command. I also continuously coordinated with other agencies to ensure a successful hostage rescue operation. Once we were in the operating area, I called on my experience throughout my Navy career as well as the training that has been conducted by all the personnel within Duta Samudera Task Force. The coordination that was done with the Multi National Task Force in the area was invaluable in helping the operation. With the guidance and protection of God almighty, the assault on the pirates and the rescue of MV Sinar Kudus crews was conducted without any casualties, aside from the pirates that were neutralized.