The Jakarta Post
Indonesia will strengthen its weaponry systems on Natuna Island in order to anticipate future threats from the South China Sea dispute.
Natuna, located 550 kilometers east of Batam Island, borders Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. The island is on the border of Indonesia that is nearest to the South China Sea.
'We will equip Natuna with a port and extend its military air base runway. The runway should be enough to accommodate four jet fighters,' Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told journalists.
He added that more jet fighters would be stationed at the Ranai military air base in Natuna.
The defense minister has made a list of weapons systems needed for borders, saying having proper weapons systems along the borders was necessary to prevent possible threats to Indonesia's territory.
'We are not in a war situation, but the South China Sea is very close to us. We have to be prepared. Our weaponry systems are good, but we need to add more [weapons], so that we don't need to worry all the time,' he said.
The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea bordering China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Due to its proximity to so many nations, complicated, often sensitive questions over jurisdiction are common. In recent years, a series of disputes over islands have rocked relations between China and other countries.
Previously, Indonesia had upgraded a naval base (Lanal) in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, to become the Main Naval Base (Lantamal), also to anticipate similar risks of disputes erupting in the sea.
'[We should] maintain security and stability in the South China Sea, especially with the recently increasing intensity of threats,' Navy chief of staff Adm. Ade Supandi said last week.
Besides allocating more weapons systems to Natuna, the Defense Ministry is starting to inspect the preparedness of weapons systems in all battalions of the Navy, Army and Air Force. The inspection was directly ordered by President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo to discover the condition of the weapons systems.
'We should know from the soldiers which weapons should be replaced or repaired,' Minister Ryamizard said after conducting inspections in three military units: the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus), Cavalry Battalion Yonkav 1/1 Kostrad and Infantry Batallion Yudha Jaya in Jakarta.
Ryamizard said that he had also reported the audit of the weaponry systems to President Jokowi and so far the response was quite good.
'The most important thing is to maintain the weapons systems [that we have bought]. Our weapons are brand new and the maintenance should be done seriously,' he said.
Indonesia is now working to strengthen its minimum essential force (MEF). It was reported that Indonesia met 38 percent of the MEF in 2014 and aimed to reach 100 percent by 2019. The country has allocated Rp 100 trillion (US$7.07 billion) to meet the MEF.
After a long discussion, including a comparison of five different types of jet fighters, the ministry also decided to procure Russian-made Sukhoi SU-35s to replace the retiring F-5 Tiger jet fighters.
The Sukhoi purchase will be carried out in stages depending on the government's financial capacity.
'We wanted to buy one squadron, but we are aware of the current [financial] situation so maybe [we will buy] around eight [units]. The jets will be all brand new and have complete weapons,' Ryamizard said.
The current price of a Sukhoi Su-35 is estimated to be $65 million.
It was reported that before being selected, the Sukhoi SU-35 had to compete against four other types; the American-made F-16 Block 60, the Swedish-made JAS-39 Gripen, the Eurofighter Typhoon, a collaboration between Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, and the French-made Rafale jet fighter.
Ryamizard said that besides purchasing the Sukhoi Su-35s, Indonesia also planned to procure Boeing aircraft and Chinook helicopters from the US.
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