The cost of Indonesia’s C-130s

As the death toll rises from yesterday’s terrible crash of an Indonesian Air Force C-130B Hercules, two sets of questions emerge: the first concerns the number and type of passengers on board, and second, the state of Indonesia’s ageing fleet. Today on Twitter, Evan Laksmana made some salient observations:

According to TNI-AU chief Air Marshal Agus Supriatna, the plane was authorised only to carry military personnel and their family members; a common practice for remote postings. Associated Press has reported that 32 passengers on board the C-130 were not designated either category. Family members of some of the victims reveal some passengers were willing to pay for their seats on the C-130 rather than board a commercial aircraft because it was cheaper. Supriatna has said he would fire any officer involved in commercialisation of the flight. If that’s the case, I have some more questions: how often are these practices occurring? Are the aircraft being used to transport other goods? Was this more rent-seeking behaviour from TNI officers, and why?

Other questions have been raised about the air worthiness of the Hercules. President Jokowi has called for an investigation into the cause of the accident, as well as a ‘fundamental restructuring’ of TNI’s capability management and procurement.

TNI must legitimately review its capability development cycle. But some politicians and lawmakers in Indonesia are quick to reduce the matter to developing indigenous capability over acquiring secondhand platforms like the C-130. For instance, when an F-16 jet caught fire at a military parade for the President in April, Supriatna declared that Indonesia shouldn’t have bought used jets, arguing the money would have been better spent on new ones. But Prashanth Parameswaran explains, it’s not a simple dichotomy; the decision at the time to buy older yet upgraded aircraft was a reflection of complex considerations.

If the aircraft are upgraded and in good working condition when they are handed over, what systems does Indonesia have in place to maintain and sustain them? When Australia agreed to sell Indonesia used C-130Hs in 2012, the MoU clearly stated that Indonesia would be responsible for refurbishment and maintenance costs.

I haven’t seen a report yet for the F-16 that caught fire in April and the results of the C-130 investigation won’t be available for some time. But, until it acquires newer platforms or builds its own, Indonesia will need its current fleet of used C-130s for HADR operations and to move troops around. Hopefully the good from this disaster is another push for TNI to be transparent in how it maintains its airframes and how its officers are using them.

Indonesia’s next military chief: Mr Proxy Wars?

General Moeldoko’s time as TNI’s head honcho is coming soon to an end. His term ends in July when he and his bapak rings will be up for retirement. Despite the looming deadline, Jokowi has not yet identified Moeldoko’s successor. Traditionally, the role has rotated through the services (since, 1999 anyway) with four-star generals eligible for the job. That should mean current Air Force Chief of Staff Agus Supriatna will become “Panglima”.

However, as Prashanth Parameswaran points out, it’s far from clear that’ll be the case.

There have been public murmurings, including most recently from VP Jusuf Kalla, that the rotational approach isn’t set in stone. For his part, Jokowi hasn’t indicated either whether he’ll follow tradition or go his own way.

The reasons for playing down Supriatna’s chances are not immediately clear (and happy to hear what others suggest), but let’s consider one of the options should Jokowi go with someone else. Remember, “Mr Proxy Wars” aka Army Chief of Staff General Gatot Nurmantyo? Back in March, he stated efforts to cede Timor-Leste from Indonesia were actually a proxy war for Australia to secure an oil field in the Timor Gap (a point I’ll return to another time). In the same talk to university students, he said Indonesia’s drug problem among the youth was part of a proxy war aimed to weaken them.

That’s the not first time he’s made such statements, and to be fair, they might not amount to much should he take over from Moeldoko. That said, at a time when there appears to be a renewed sense of nationalism in Indonesia, statements made by a Panglima that victimise Indonesia risk fanning nationalist flames. Moeldoko penned strident statements in the Wall Street Journal about the legality of China’s claims in the South China Sea, contrary to statements made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another vocal Panglima could widen the rhetorical divide between Indonesia’s military and diplomatic arms on key security issues.

As Evan Laksmana and Jim Della Giacoma rightfully note, the military—and army in particular—is searching for relevance. It could be that Nurmantyo’s comments are part of this trend. Yet at a time when Jokowi’s vision for Indonesia as a “global maritime fulcrum” depends on a stronger maritime force (being navy, coast guard and air force driven), there’s little apparent logic in appointing back-to-back Army chiefs.

Despite the need to rebuild the Navy and Air Force under the Minimum Essential Force plan, the Army has been given a boost in recent years. During SBY’s presidency, the Army has incrementally ramped up duties to include larger and more frequent peacekeeping operations, counterterrorism functions and, with a slew of MoUs since Jokowi’s presidency, civic affairs. These civic functions range from rice distribution to countering violent extremism activities and disrupting human trafficking networks. Some remote and insecure parts of Indonesia do need to rely on Army logistics for distribution of food and presence for security, but the Navy and Air Force need more championing if they’re to protect Indonesia’s maritime domain.

Naturally it’s hard to know exactly how a Panglima will perform just by looking at his track record. In any case, come late July, part of that mystery will be solved.

Indonesia’s new military chief

General Moeldoko

Here’s the reblog of my latest Strategist post:

On 21 August, the Indonesian House of Representatives endorsed the candidacy of General Moeldoko, Indonesia’s Army Chief, moving him a step closer to becoming commander TNI. With defence ties a key pillar of the Australia–Indonesia bilateral relationship, it’s worth knowing more about the Indonesia’s future military leader (known as ‘Panglima TNI’) and what this means for Australia.

Moeldoko finished top of his class and is generally considered to be a high-performing officer. If his first public statements can be taken to encapsulate his approach to the military, then expect an emphasis on military professionalism and soldier welfare. Moeldoko has promised to improve soldiers’ welfare by increasing their pay by 15%. He also intends to improve soldier discipline, minimise the import of foreign military equipment in order to support Indonesia’s defence industry and remain neutral during the upcoming 2014 elections.

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Dirgahayu Indonesia!: President SBY’s national day address

Presiden SBY menyampaikan pidato kenegaraan di hadapan sidang bersama DPR dan DPD RI di Gedung DPR/MPR, Jakarta, Jumat (16/8) pagi. (foto: cahyo/presidenri.go.id)

Long live Indonesia, indeed! President SBY’s ambitions in this year’s national day address (delivered on 16 August ahead of Indonesia’s Independence day on 17 August) included continuing economic development, expanding Indonesia’s role as a global diplomatic actor, maintaining religious harmony and stability, and protecting the sovereignty of the Indonesian state.

At a glance, SBY’s key messages and points on international-related issues included:

  • The Asia-Pacific region requires a new paradigm (an Indo-Pacific Treaty) to increase mutual trust and eliminate the use of force in settling disputes, being based on the spirit of unity;
  • Indonesia remains committed to the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2015;
  • On Syria, “the world should not stand idly by and let the humanitarian crisis continue.”;
  • The use of military force towards protesters in Egypt is contrary to the values of democracy and humanity;
  • The theme of this year’s APEC meeting chaired by Indonesia will be ‘Resilient Asia-Pacific, Engines of Global Growth’;
  • On Papua, “Indonesia will act decisively in the face of any threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI)”;
  • SBY hopes that all parties would work actively to prevent political activities [concerning Papua] that could lead to disruptions in Indonesia’s relations with friendly states.

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The Raid

I’m not talking about the hit Indonesian martial arts film about a crack police team raiding an abandoned building and fighting gangsters. I’m talking about the commencement last Thursday of the trial for 12 Kopassus soldiers who are accused of raiding Yogyakarta’s Sleman prison in March and killing four detainees.

The Kopassus soldiers are alleged to have carried out the shootings in revenge for the fatal stabbing of a Kopassus sergeant in a Yogya nightclub after a dispute with the detainees, who turned out to be gang members. When the case hit the media, there were varying levels of public denial from military leadership about Kopassus involvement. Some, like former intelligence chief (and former Kopassus member) Hendro Priyono who attended the trial on Thursday, had defended the special forces soldiers by pointing to the initial stabbing as a ‘human rights violation’. The trial and mixed messages of senior leadership (both currently serving and retired) make it a current case of the continuing challenges of TNI reform. Also of note is the extent to which they shape public perception of the extra-judicial killings.

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My military is bigger than yours …

I think a bit of context needs to be given to the ABC’s report, ‘Indonesian President vows to outgun Australia‘. Published the same day our new Defence White Paper (PDF) was released, the story’s headline made Indonesia look particularly hawkish. I’d like to offer my thoughts to clear up what Indonesia’s military modernisation is and isn’t about.

First, let’s look at the expanded version of what President SBY actually said (apologies for any errors in translation):

The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia is non-negotiable. Our military forces must be larger and more modern than neighbouring countries, like Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and so on. Given our vast country, the Indonesian military forces must absolutely be larger.

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Photo of the Day: POLRI and Gangnam Style

How do Indonesia’s police do crowd control? ‘Gangnam Style’, of course. With May Day bringing thousands of demonstrators to Indonesia’s streets protesting for better workers’ rights, Indonesian policewomen in Surabaya danced to the hit song by Psy to keep crowds happy. Well played, POLRI PR, well played.

Video here.

Image credit: Agence France-Press via Jakarta Globe