Lawmakers from the House of Representatives’ Commission I overseeing defense said that the TNI had lost its focus in the country’s defense strategy by planning to spend lavishly on main battle tanks for the army and spending too little on the navy and air force.
Long considered obsolete, the country’s weapons systems will see a major refurbishment after Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro confirmed on Monday that the government would earmark Rp 150 trillion ( US$16.41 billion ) for modernizing the TNI’s weaponry.
The TNI is under fire for planning to procure 100 Leopard 2A6 tanks from the Netherlands, which has phased out its armored divisions to cut its defense budget due to the European debt crisis.
Many have viewed the German-made Leopard tank as unsuitable to Indonesian terrain, which is dominated by thick forests and riverbanks.
The tank is regarded as more suitable for arid battlefields such as those in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Leopard, which reportedly costs $5 million per tank and is considered one of the most expensive tanks in the world, also has relatively high operating costs as each unit boasts a twin turbo-charged V-12 diesel engine under its hood.
House Commission I chairman Mahfudz Siddiq said on Tuesday that the procurement of the state-of-the-art tanks was unnecessary and thus should not be on the TNI’s shopping list.
“The issue has been raised by my colleagues from this commission. In the context of land defense, is [this type of tank] really needed? What is needed may not be a main battle tank like the Leopard, but rather a mid-level tank,” he said.
The commission chairman said that the TNI should instead focus on spending more on high-tech ships or jet fighters.
Mahfudz said that if necessary the TNI should spend more on naval vessels as he thought the Indonesian Navy had a “more vital role than ever” at present.
“The first priority for the TNI is to buy more equipment for the navy, because 70 percent of Indonesian territory is open water. The area most prone to external threats today is the sea. Look for example at the recent tensions in the South China Sea,” Mahfudz said.
Mahfudz, however, agreed that modernization of TNI’s military hardware was necessary for the country to cope with developments in the Asia-Pacific region.
“If the tensions [in Asia-Pacific] turn into military conflict, Indonesia must be able to respond,” he said.
In a meeting with Commission I lawmakers on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that the price tag on the new weapons systems was commensurate with the improved standing of Indonesia in the Southeast Asian region.
“The country’s foreign policies, whether through diplomacy or defense, are complimentary to each other,” Marty told lawmakers.
He said that the improved weaponry would strengthen the country’s defense.
“The government has implemented the defense policy [to modernize TNI’s weapons systems] and it will certainly strengthen and support us,” Marty said.
Marty, however, downplayed fears that the TNI’s decision to modernize its weaponry was in anticipation of the prospect of escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region this year.
“This is not directly related to any regional threats. Indonesia is very open and transparent in conveying this plan to countries in the region and they understand it very well,” he said. ( sat )