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Indonesia To Spend Billions On New Weapons

April 9, 2012

On January 18 Indonesia’s defense minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro was photographed clutching a locally built SS2 assault rifle at the armed forces headquarters in Jakarta.  While the smiling generals beside him meant the mood at the gathering–an exhibition–was light, the occasion marked the latest in a series of moves to overhaul Indonesia’s military, known as the TNI.

According to Yusgiantoro, beginning this year Indonesia’s defense budget is going to increase annually by 20% until 2014. The sudden spike will comprise 1% of the massive archipelagic country’s GDP and total $15 billion dollars. The plan to re-equip the formidable TNI, who are badly in need of modern equipment, has already been in the works since 2009.

As the largest military in South East Asia, the TNI’s various branches spent much of the last 70 years fighting internal threats. Like its neighbors, the Indonesian archipelago is rife with secessionist rebellions. This does not mean the TNI eschews confrontations with its neighbors, other than disputes with Malaysia and Singapore, Indonesia’s military launched a full-scale invasion of East Timor in 1975.

But with Indonesia’s economy growing at a rapid pace and regional competition on the rise, President Yudhoyono’s administration made it a priority to ensure the TNI is not left behind by its neighbors. To this end, the government has earmarked billions of dollars for new weapons to upgrade the TNI’s capabilities. Indonesia’s long term goals in defense already got the benefit of a farsighted plan whose timetable extends to 2024.

In recent years Indonesia struck hundred-million dollar deals with Russia for Su-30 jets, strengthened ties with South Korea to facilitate bulk orders for fighter trainers and three submarines, and even approached Holland for a wholesale purchase of Leapard2A6 MBTs.

The last order in the massive shopping list triggered some controversy, as critics from within the government as well as the public have cited how unsuitable MBTs are to Indonesia’s defense needs. The immense cost is also raising eyebrows.

This does not mean Indonesia’s military has given up on new armor. Towards the end of January, Russia’s Izveztia newspaper published a story on a large order for BMP-3 APCs to be used by Indonesia’s marines. Another high-profile purchase attracting scrutiny are eight AH-64 Apaches from the US.

Three months after Yusgiantoro’s announcement, Indonesia’s president reassured attendees of the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue (JIDD) that the surge in weapons acquisitions should not be construed as Indonesia’s participation in a broader arms race.

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