It is interesting to know that the Indonesian government has decided to revamp its defense system. With a Navy of only 65,000 personnel and an Air Force of 45,000 while an Army of 285,000 personnel in country where water and air contribute to more than half of its total territory, there is a clear imbalance between the three forces in Indonesia.
Even though the Indonesian Army has long been playing very important security and defense role in Indonesia but an Army-centered defense mechanism in an island nation like Indonesia is seen to be irrelevant if Indonesia wants to establish an effective and dependable defense mechanism to guard and defend its national security and interests. Thus there is an urgent necessity to draw a new system of defense most suitable for an island nation like Indonesia. Expanding the Indonesian Navy and Air Force is an important step to achieve this goal.
Following this logic, the Minister of Defense, Juwono Sudarsono said that the necessity of spending more on the two defense forces is “because the nature of our defense situation is more about the water and the air. For the Army, the key word is not modernizing, but stabilizing ... emphasizing the presence of the battalions." (The Jakarta Post, 19 April 2006, “Air Force, Navy to get bigger chunk of funds”)
Nobody can agree more with this view. By increasing the numbers of the Navy and the Air Force personnel while at the same time modernizing their weaponry and technology would definitely create a balance in the Indonesian military. Furthermore, this long-awaited defense policy change is expected to create a defense system more suitable to the country's archipelagic geography.
Even though the success of the revamp process of the defense system would rely on both Indonesia’s financial availability and also cooperation with neighboring countries, but the need to improve Indonesia’s increasing demand of security and defense is unavoidable. The relatively small military budget should be increased to meet the demands. Because with the currently weak capacity of sea and air patrols, Indonesia is estimated to lose about Rp 2 trillion annually due to illegal fishing practices in the country's waters. This fact only proves the argument on the need of improving and re-orienting Indonesia’s security and defense mechanism into water and air, while at the same time stabilizing its Army.
How and Where to Begin
The improving strategic relationship between Indonesia and the US can be used as an initial step towards the process. The decision by the US administration to resume its military relation with Indonesia will only add to the greater possibility of acquiring better technology and weaponry system for Indonesian military. In the nearer front, the long history of a cordial military relation with India should be utilized even more in this process. Indonesia can imitate the Indian experience of building up its Naval force. The proximity of the two countries can also be used as a step towards building up an important partnership in Indonesia’s effort to revamp its defense system.
As the biggest country in South Asia that occupies the biggest chunk of land in the Indian Sub-Continent, it was thus understandable that the Indian Navy was the most neglected of the three services because the national leadership perceived that the bulk of the threats to India were land-based. However, with the change of approach and priority, the Indian Navy has been transformed into a formidable naval power in the world.
Through the conscious and difficult process of indigenisation started in the mid 1960s in consonance with its national endeavour towards self-reliance, the Indian Navy embarked upon an ambiguous program of indigenous construction of ships and development of major sub systems, sensors and weapon systems with the help of its Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Defence Public Sector Understandings (PSUs). Even though fiscal constraints at that time had prevented the implementation of these ambitious plans for naval expansion but the determination among Indian leadership was high that through close partnership with foreign country like the then Uni Soviet, India succeeded in revamping its Navy. This long process of transformation has enabled the Indian Navy to become a builder’s Navy and not just be a buyer’s Navy. Self-reliance through indigenisation that has been the Indian Navy’s guiding philosophy over the last half century proved to be very effective in this transformation process.
At the same time, in the spirit of international military cooperation, India has made moves in the early and mid-1990s to enhance joint-nation interoperability. Indian naval exercises have taken place with ships from the Russian navy and those of Indian Ocean littoral states and other nations, including the United States. This experience can also become an important factor for Indonesia in its effort to implementing a defense policy that is friendly, non-threatening and is not carried out by massive provision of weapons.
If the Indonesian government can follow these initial steps, it will surely be successful in its process to revamp the defense system. Workable regional security cooperation can also be built through this process. Even though it would still be difficult to increase the defense budget due to some fiscal restraints, but a necessity is there to implement. The Indonesian leadership should chalk out long-term objectives to create self-reliance in the country. An indigenisation process followed by India can become a model for future Indonesia.