Indonesia looks to re-equip military

Video game enthusiasts next month can plug into a world where heavily armed Indonesian separatists and fractured, competing units of the nation’s military battle each other.

    The Indonesian army is said to be shockingly ill-equipped

    Set for a May launch, Joint Operations-Typhoon Rising is the latest offering from the company that produced the immensely popular Black Hawk Down video-game.

    While the Balkanisation of Indonesia is the government's real-life nightmare scenario, in at least one sense the online action will be pure fantasy.

    The combination of a four-year-long American arms embargo and institutional corruption has left the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), the 16th largest in the world, shockingly ill-equipped.

    "I've no doubt that if they were geared for war, had an offensive posture rather than defensive, with very little help the Australians, Singaporeans or Malaysians could take most major centres in Indonesia in a matter of days," says one experienced foreign military analyst.

    This is a view shared by others who spoke to

    "Of course, they would never be able to hold them," adds the analyst.

    Now, Indonesia is turning to old foes, Russia, China and Israel, and some new friends in Korea, Poland, India and Jordan in order to rebuild.

    Officials here blame the TNI's poor state of preparedness on the American government's decision to embargo weapons sales to Indonesia in late 1999.

    The decision was made after credible evidence emerged of the military's involvement in the planning and execution of a scorched earth policy in East Timor.

    At the time, the island's residents had rejected an offer of autonomy within Indonesia and opted for full independence instead.

    Indonesia has never accepted responsibility for what happened in East Timor and the issue remains the key sticking point in its relations with several of its once closest trading partners, but none more so than the US.

    Billions in weapons

    In the 25 years prior to the imposition of the embargo, the US sold its southeast Asian ally more than $1.2 billion dollars worth of weapons, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists. 

    "The Air Force has been particularly affected because we have so much trouble getting parts. I think we've seen there's a need to diversify. I think this explains why we’re buying hardware from Russia, China and other European countries"

    Dino Djalal,
    head of North American desk, Indonesian Foreign Ministry

    In past years, however, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have accounted for more than 70% of Indonesia's arms purchases.

    Operating under the maxim that "engagement equals access", Indonesian firms with close ties to the armed forces received lucrative deals allowing them to manufacture American weapons like the ubiquitous M-16 under contract.

    In addition, thousands of Indonesian soldiers, including many special forces' members suspected of committing egregious human rights abuses against their own citizens, received advanced training in the United States and Australia.

    Though the years have seen a gradual relaxation of the original embargo - the sale of replacement parts for Indonesia's ageing fleet of C-130 aircraft are no longer prohibited for example - the ban still covers all "lethal" weapons.

    "It certainly has had a practical impact because our military equipment is based on American systems predominantly," says Dino Djalal, head of the North American desk at the Indonesian foreign ministry. 

    "The Air Force has been particularly affected because we have so much trouble getting parts. I think we've seen there's a need to diversify. I think this explains why we're buying hardware from Russia, China and other European countries."

    Ties renewed

    The years since the collapse of the 32-year Suharto regime in 1998 have seen a quiet flourishing of ties between Indonesia and former or current communist nations, once considered a taboo subject.

    Arms purchases have gone up
    under President Megawati

    At least 800,000 people (estimates range as high as two million) accused of being Communists were killed in the 18 months following the aborted coup that ushered in Suharto's pro-West New Order government in 1965.

    Despite residual distrust of the Chinese government, high-level meetings were held in Jakarta in the fall of 2002 between the Chinese defence minister and current Indonesian presidential hopeful Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired TNI general.

    The talks focussed almost exclusively on opening the Indonesian market to Chinese-made weapons.

    "Indonesia may buy arms from China to compensate for a US embargo on weapons sales," the TNI’s Chief of Staff General Endriartono Sutarto said at the time.

    "We are considering China as one of the alternative arms suppliers. Indonesia will not continue to be dependent on one source, which has imposed an embargo for the past few years."

    Jakarta has also worked to foster military ties with the current Russian administration, which does not attach human rights "riders" to the sale of its weapons.


    Last August, the TNI took delivery of four Sukhoi SU-30 fighter aircraft and a pair of assault helicopters, part of a $200 million deal with Russia.

    The government has hinted it will buy at least 20 more of the cutting edge aircraft, sufficient for two full squadrons, to supplement its ageing collection of 45 US-made A-4 Skyhawks and F-16 Fighting Falcons.

    "We are considering China as one of the alternative arms suppliers. Indonesia will not continue to be dependent on one source, which has imposed an embargo for the past few years"

    General Endriartono Sutarto,
    TNI’s chief of staff

    The deal, which did not involve input from the Defence Ministry, scandalised Indonesians, and offered a brief view of the corruption that experts say is a part of every weapons deal the country conducts.

    A recent RAND corporation review of the TNI estimates the 2002 Indonesian defence budget, worth $800 million, covered less than one-third of its operational expenses, and the military has repeatedly said the figure is closer to a quarter.

    As a result, the military has developed vast networks of business interests, some legal, many not.

    The seminal study of the military's recent business history, Trifungsi: The Role of the Indonesian Military in Business, found "that as much as 80% of the military's budget comes from illegal activities like drug-smuggling, prostitution and illegal casinos and security arrangements with corporations like ExxonMobil and Freeport McMoRan."

    "Everybody knows there are the 'rent-seekers', that it's business as usual with the brokers, and that these people have very close relationships with the people in power," says Indria Samego, an analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Science.

    "If they spend $200 million on new Sukhois for example, maybe the real price, based on the fact that Malaysia bought the same planes, is $140 million. So where does the difference go?"

    No scrutiny

    Scandal seems an integral part of Indonesia's weapons purchases. In 1992, the Indonesian government bought 39 used warships from the former East German navy.

    One of the vessels sank on the way over, and the billion-dollar retrofit needed to operate the ships in southern waters never happened. Today, two of the ships are operational and others are used as rusting naval barracks.

    "This embargo hasn't hurt the Indonesians as much as they claim ... They can get anything they want from the Israelis. It turns up and they keep flying"

    Foreign analyst

    It applies to smaller purchases as well. Indonesian government last year trumpeted a plan to buy side-arms from Romania, only to learn later that the country had dismantled its once-extensive arms manufacturing industry as a prerequisite to joining NATO.

    In 2001, Indonesia approached Israel as a possible source of F-16 parts.

    While there are no formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, it is believed Singapore brokered a deal in the mid-1990s to use Israeli-made surveillance drones to resolve a hostage-taking incident in Papua.

    In November 2003, Israel Aircraft Industries quietly opened an office in Jakarta.

    The IAI, which manufactures weapons and weapons systems for clients around the world, is working with the Indonesian national carrier Garuda to convert Boeing 737s from airliners to cargo planes.

    Some analysts believe the relationship is much deeper.

    "This embargo hasn't hurt the Indonesians as much as they claim," says one foreign analyst.

    "They can get anything they want from the Israelis. It turns up and they keep flying. If there was a zero trade embargo and everyone adhered to the end-use certificates, none of those F-16s would be flying today."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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