The recent visit by United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — with the key agenda of the US offering the sale of Apache helicopters to Indonesia — is largely understood as very much improved bilateral relations, particularly between the two countries’ military organizations.
The offer came about three years after US President Barack Obama offered to “grant” 24 F16 fighter jets to Indonesia. The US’ commitment to sell eight advanced attack helicopters to Indonesia reflects the superpower’s acknowledgment of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as its most important partner in its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. The deal to sell Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters worth US$500 million to the Indonesian Military (TNI), which includes pilot training, radars and maintenance, was disclosed after a bilateral meeting between Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and Secretary Hagel on Monday.
There is no news better than improved bilateral military relations, particularly with the US, as it would mean extensive access to the latest US military equipment that Indonesia needs. It would also mean an assurance of the availability of spare parts for those new arms and military equipment.
The US is the largest arms supplier, controlling 56 percent of global arms trade worldwide, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The latest offer to Indonesia is important, especially because the country only resumed military ties with the US in 2005, after nearly two decades of arms embargo by the global superpower.
However, the offer comes at a time when Indonesia needs to “selectively” allocate its defense budget in order to meet the very much expected efficiency amid the yet stable global economy, which directly and indirectly affects the Indonesian economy. Bank Indonesia (BI)’s emergency meeting on Thursday — which focused on financial stability — was a signal of possible monetary tightening.
With regards to the offer by Secretary Hagel, first of all, there needs to be a thorough examination whether or not Indonesia really needs these “combat ready” helicopters, while observing a more favorable global relation that does not need full-scale, let alone excessive, military strength on its part. Indonesia, also, is not at war or under threat of war with other countries. Even if a domestic security threat — in terms of separatism or armed struggle — does exist, the country apparently does not need the presence of such sophisticated attacking helicopters among its Army fleet.
On the other hand, Indonesia does need sophisticated military equipment, for example, in the form of fighter jets with capacity and capability that can match, if not outclass, those fighter jets that have frequently violated our airspace so as to ensure our country’s air sovereignty. Our country also needs to improve its Navy’s capability and operability, by procuring more sophisticated submarines in order to ensure our country’s sovereignty at seas.
Essentially, the US offer is a good and positive sign of improved relations. But, we should not immediately say “yes” to the offer as there are many things to consider, besides modernizing our military weaponry.