Will 100 Leopards be enough to defend our country?
Paper Edition | Page: 7
The government has finally decided to purchase 100 refurbished main Battle Tanks (MBT) Leopard 2A6 from Germany, ending months of controversy around its initial plan to buy secondhand from the Netherlands.
It remains debatable whether the US$280 million shopping spree is really necessary to modernize Indonesia’s primary weaponry systems and enhance the country’s defense force. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the procurement of the combat vehicles is as continuation of the country’s defense strategy.
The Defense Ministry’s decision to purchase 100 Leopard tanks is both incorrect and untimely. Assessments from the House of Representatives, military retirees, military observers and civil society groups reveal that the purchase is not urgent, and that the tanks are unsuitable for the Indonesian terrain and infrastructure.
If the tanks are to be used to secure the border in Kalimantan or Papua, then their deployment will require road infrastructure and sea transportation, which the two islands lack. The road along the Kalimantan border was not built for tanks.
According to news reports these vehicles are needed to protect the Indonesian frontiers.
However, during a hearing at the House at the end of last year, the Indonesian Military stated that the tanks would be placed in Jakarta and Surabaya. The contradictory statements raise questions as to whether the tanks will be used to face demonstrators like in Egypt and Syria.
Furthermore, it is important to underline that stationing these Leopard tanks in Papua, will raise concerns that they will be used to suppress the Papuan people.
While security conditions in Papua these days remain volatile, any deployment of the tanks in the province will potentially risk exacerbating human rights violations there.
This procurement shows the inconsistency of the country’s defense policy. This purchase was not included in the national defense position outlined in 2007.
Even if there have been fundamental changes in the security threat, the government should be able to revise the national defense strategy.
The tank procurement plan raises real questions about severity and nature of the threat from Malaysia along the Kalimantan border.
These tanks are easy prey to air-to-land assaults. If Indonesia wants to protect its frontiers, surely we need Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — the drones we hear so much about on the news from Pakistan and other war zones?
Amid budget constraints and the global economic meltdown, it is important for the government to exercise prudence in allocating the defense budget.
They must establish gradual process in modernizing the defense equipment, with milestones and reality checks. Purchase of war machines (and any other use of public funds) must be based on the objective needs of national defense.
Not political interests or the financial gain of certain groups or elites. Transparency and accountability in the defense sector remain opaque and unaccountable.
Empowerment of our land defenses is necessary and urgent. Geographical constraints, infrastructure, strategy and defense doctrine must be the primary consideration in procurement.
Indonesia has plans to develop and produce medium and light tanks in collaboration with other countries. Medium and light tanks are far more effective and operable than the MBT are also in line with our ambition to develop the national defense industry.
Strengthening of land forces should include the purchase of helicopters capable of combat and transport duties. For frontier defense, Indonesia needs missiles with range up to 500 kilometers and radar system with coverage of 500km.
Deterrence effects will come through a better naval fleet with more submarines and warships, and by boosting the air force. In purchasing defense equipment, it is important to stay in line with the existing defense policy. New defense equipment does not just appear in an empty space. Unless it is part of a strategy, it is useless.
The visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Jakarta should increase the quality of the 60-year-old cooperation between Germany and by focusing on modernization of Indonesia’s defense forces in a way that is compatible with our objective needs.
Defense cooperation should mean protection of human rights in Indonesia, which until today remains an open sore, given the rampant practice of impunity for perpetrators of past abuses.
We hope the honorable Chancellor will pay attention to such concerns.
Al Araf, program director of Imparsial Human Rights Group, and Anton Aliabbas, program director of The Ridep Institute, an NGO focused on researching security sector reform, are members of the Civil Advocacy for Security Sector Reform.