The Indonesian military will continue to replace outdated equipment and add new hardware to adequately defend the nation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed at a commemoration of the armed forces’ 68th anniversary.
“Our defense hardware’s capability will significantly increase [from now on],” he told the gathering soldiers at Halim Perdana Kusumah Air Force Base in East Jakarta on Saturday before leaving for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali.
However, he warned the military, or TNI, to stay out of politics and maintain neutrality in the next year’s elections.
“Next year, we will have legislative and presidential elections. I order the TNI to stay neutral. Make sure that the TNI only serves the nation’s interests, and aspires only to protect the nation from outside attacks, and keep the [territorial] integrity of our country,” he said.
The president praised the military for neutrality during the country’s democratic transition after the 1998 collapse of the New Order, when the military was heavily involved in politics.
He pledged that the military would soon see long-needed upgrades.
The president noted that the Army already maintained several units of battle tanks, armored vehicles, cannons, air defense missiles, anti-tank missiles and a multiple-launch rocket system, as well as transportation and attack helicopters.
Meanwhile, the Navy is equipped with corvettes, a battle ship with missiles, frigates, amphibious tanks and a tactical multiple-launch rocket system, he said.
The Air Force possesses two dozen F-16s, a small squadron of Sukhoi-27s fighter jets, several Super Tucano light attack propeller aircraft, and a set of T-50 training jets.
The president did not comment on these military systems’ present state of readiness.
“All these equipment upgrades must be accompanied by improvement in skills, readiness and better resilience of our troops. They are the ones who will operate the increasingly sophisticated equipment,” he said.
Indonesia’s defense readiness has lagged in recent years, as economic problems prevented the country from maintaining or upgrading its military equipment.
Indonesia also suffered a setback when the Unites States cut off its long-running program of assistance to the Indonesian military in 1999 as a result of widespread human rights violations in East Timor. The US dropped the last of its restrictions on military assistance in 2010.
Yudhoyono slashed defense purchases during his first term to free up money for economic and social policies, but later increased the defense spending in the wake of the domestic criticism and the repeal of the US defense assistance ban.
Defense comprises the largest share of government spending at Rp 83 trillion ($7.65 billion) this year, up from Rp 77.7 trillion in 2013. Yudhoyono said in August that he had requested more money in the military’s budget “to improve the readiness and reliability of the TNI in safeguarding territorial sovereignty, in executing defensive tasks of the state during peace-time, and in participating in maintaining world peace.”
Indonesia announced it would buy eight Apache attack helicopters from the for $500 million during an August visit by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Under a separate deal with Germany, Indonesia is also due to receive more than 100 used Leopard 2A6 battle tanks.
Human rights watchers have expressed concerned about what the helicopters and tanks could be used for.
“Given the government’s poor track record on human rights in Papua, the [Leopard tank] could be used as a tool of repression,” the Indonesian Coalition of Civil Society said at the time in a statement.
Jakarta is also in talks with China to jointly produce C-705 anti-ship missiles.
Both moves have raised concerns among neighboring countries and allies.
Defense analysts say Indonesia is relying on a diversification strategy for defense technology, as Chinese and Western-allied countries compete for business and favor.
TNI officials say regardless of the politics of procurement, diversification guarantees the best deal for weapons and defense systems, and benefits Indonesia’s 400,000 active-duty soldiers.
The government has also announced it will jointly produce three submarines and KFX/IFX fighter jets with South Korea, as well as eight corvettes with Dutch shipbuilder Damen Schelde.
Indonesia will also increase the number of F-16 fighter jets on order from the US to 36, in addition to six C-130H cargo planes from Australia.
Yudhoyono said Indonesia wanted to cooperate with other countries on joint production, rather than buy hardware, in a bid to boost the domestic defense industry and benefit from technology transfers.
“In the near future, a number of local companies will be able to produce defense equipment we need on their own, including helicopters, communication devices, tanks, warships and fighter jets,” he said.
“Without new equipment, we’ll be left behind by our neighbors in Southeast Asia,” former Army chief of staff Pramono Edhie Wibowo said. JG