TNI gears up, sets sights on foreign threats
Rendi A. Witular
The Jakarta Post
As the Indonesian Military (TNI) begins to perceive the growing threat from other nations, it is accelerating efforts to strengthen deterrence by overhauling its structure to allow for faster troop deployment, expanding the Marine Corps and procuring long-range offensive weaponry.
In what is expected to be among President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's most far-reaching military policies, a regulation is planned for June on the formation of defense groups under joint-command, locally abbreviated as Kogabwilhan.
The plan will integrate the regional resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force into multi-service groups that will be positioned in certain defense flashpoints integral to preserving the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
'But the function of the Kogabwilhan will not be limited to that. It will also serve as a deterrence to other countries as the command will have the flexibility and the needed resources for rapid deployment,' said Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro recently.
Each Kogabwilhan group will be equipped with its own fleet of warships, jet fighter squadron and Army units. Each group's commander, a three-star general, will be given the authority to respond without having to go through the red tape at the TNI headquarters in Jakarta.
Under the existing structure, the TNI cannot immediately respond to, for example, a foreign incursion into the eastern territory until its central command assigns a three-star commanding officer and drafts deployment and logistics orders.
'We're always on alert over future threats from other countries. But our existing structure and command are not sufficient to promptly respond. The Kogabwilhan will patch up the holes,' said Defense Ministry's director general for defense planning Rear Marshall FX Bambang Sulistyo.
The government is planning to have four Kogabwilhan groups cover several flashpoints, which according to the ministry officials, are Aceh, Natuna in Riau Islands, Papua and Attambua in East Nusa Tenggara.
Aceh was included due to fears another separatist movement could emerge, and also because of its strategic location at the mouth of the busy Strait of Malacca.
Meanwhile, Natuna sits near the South China Sea, where China is in border rows with several ASEAN nations that are mostly backed by the US. Indonesia is not involved in the territorial disputes. Papua was chosen because of its separatist conflict and Attambua for its proximity to East Timor (Timor Leste) and Australia.
The headquarters of each Kogabwilhan group will not necessarily be at the deployment location. For example, to cover Natuna, the command could either be set up in the West Kalimantan provincial capital of Pontianak or in Riau's capital of Pekanbaru.
'We have not decided whether to have three or four Kogabwilhan groups. If we have four then it should cover the areas of eastern, western and central Indonesia. The command for Java should be a stand-alone,' said Purnomo.
To support the policy, the ministry is undergoing a so-called 'right-sizing' in its personnel assignments, in which priority will be given to strike units rather than to support ones.
'There will also be no expansion in the number of troops. What we are doing is reassigning personnel to priority divisions,' said Purnomo.
Indonesia has around 460,000 military personnel, as of 2013, and every year around 13,000 retire.
As part of the restructuring, Purnomo said that the ministry was in the process of expanding the Marines, with the latest addition being the 10th Marine Battalion in Setokok Island, some 4 kilometers southeast of Batam Island in Riau Islands province.
President Yudhoyono is scheduled to inaugurate the battalion, initially commissioned with 600 personnel, in March.
In a sign that the TNI is serious in setting its sights outward, it recently agreed to the purchase of a dozen Russian Kilo-class submarines. A team is scheduled to fly to Moscow at the end of the month to process the purchase through Russia's export credit facilities, which carry low interest rates.
'What will be the game changer is not the Kilo-class subs themselves, but the Club-S cruise missiles onboard,' said Purnomo, adding that the missiles could hit a target 400 km away.
The country is also waiting for the deliveries of 30 refurbished F-16 fighters and a dozen Apache attack helicopters from the US starting this year, as well as 103 refurbished Leopard main battle tanks from Germany.
House of Representatives defense, intelligence and foreign affairs committee member Susaningtyas Handayani Kertopati said the TNI should strengthen its 'outward-looking' approach at a time when there were signs of escalating threats.
'The greatest threat will obviously be from Australia,' she said.
Just recently, Australia apologized to Indonesia after its border patrol boats entered Indonesian territorial waters without permission in their bid to stop migrants.
A Defense Ministry official has warned that Australia's 'tow-back' policy may soon ignite conflict.
The policy involves the Australian navy intercepting and forcing back to Indonesia boats crowded with undocumented migrants heading to Australia.
'Now that we have three frigates on the border, a clash could be imminent as our Navy will prevent the towing back,' said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The TNI has been occupied for more than four decades with quelling domestic threats ' primarily, separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua, as well as communal and sectarian violence in Kalimantan and Maluku. Its resources and command structure have been mostly tailored accordingly.
But as domestic threats have receded in the past eight years, the TNI has gradually shifted its focus to building deterrent capabilities, and has taken a more serious approach regarding foreign coercion than before.
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