The Jakarta Post
The prevailing mood ahead of the anniversary celebration of the Indonesian Military (TNI) this year will be different from yesteryear’s, when the event was typified by a massive show of force and a grand parade.
The commemoration today will instead take place in a simple fashion, not only due to the military headquarters’ decision to hold a huge celebration only every two years, but also apparently because the nation is still coping with the impacts of two major earthquakes that hit Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), in July and the Central Sulawesi city of Palu, as well as the Sigi, Donggala and Parigi Moutong regencies last week.
The modest celebration this year cannot be separated from the pressing demand for the country to tighten monetary and fiscal policies amid the volatile global economy.
All those unfavorable conditions ahead of the TNI’s 73rd anniversary celebration, however, should not give the military an excuse to relax its responsibility and commitment to national defense from external security threats. In other words, the TNI and its personnel must continue to uphold their professionalism despite all the impediments.
Speaking about professionalism, the TNI as a state institution and its personnel are therefore expected to perform to their utmost ability under any conditions. Besides the individual capacity of its troops in responding to any security conditions and threats, TNI professionalism has oftentimes been associated with sufficient availability of military weapons and equipment, which are crucial for soldiers to perform their tasks as the country’s defense force.
After the decline of the New Order, efforts to modernize the military’s posture have been devised under a specified arms procurement policy, dubbed the Indonesian Military Modernization Program under the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) scheme. The medium-term 15-year scheme, which has been intended to immediately replace the obsolete arms and weaponry of the TNI, is divided into three five-year terms of strategic planning (Renstra) beginning in 2010 and is expected to be completed in 2024.
Intensive discussions regarding the TNI modernization program have been held within TNI’s headquarters and in the form of public discourses involving civilian military observers and policymakers.
While there are numerous items to purchase under the MEF program, particular attention is paid to the planned purchase of jet fighters to replace the aging F-5-E/F Tiger II warplanes after 35 years in service and the ongoing procurement of three 209/1400 Chang Bogo-class diesel attack submarines from South Korea. In general, jet fighters and submarines have largely been considered the backbone of a modern era warfare system.
It has been eventually decided that Indonesia will procure 11 Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35 multirole jet fighters, with first delivery slated for next year. Two of the three procured submarines have arrived from South Korea and joined Indonesia’s submarine fleet. The third submarine is being constructed at the state-owned shipbuilder PT PAL in Surabaya under a technology transfer agreement.
With all due respect to the already reached agreement on the procurement of such high-tech war machines, it is presumed that the procurement has gone through thorough and careful consideration. The shopping was intended to replace the defense equipment that would soon become outdated or dysfunctional before their supposed life span.
Apart from its warfare capability, TNI’s professionalism could also be measured through its personnel’s capacity in performing “military operations other than war”, a modern era-defined military role that can be found in many military organizations worldwide. The valuable lessons learned were rescue operations after the last two major earthquakes in NTB and Central Sulawesi.
Both earthquakes have essentially underscored the importance for the country to have such a rapid response disaster mitigation system, with our military personnel forming the backbone. While their skills are sufficient to perform rescue and post-disaster reconstruction operations, they could have performed better had they possessed or been equipped with the necessary equipment to support their tasks.
Perhaps, it is high time for Indonesia to procure the mandatory equipment, like portable Air Traffic Control (ATC) towers and portable mini water treatment devices, two of the most important items in the event of a natural disaster. So far, Indonesia has been borrowing the equipment from friendly countries.
Natural disaster has oftentimes damaged vital infrastructure, including airports, and possessing a portable ATC tower will be pivotal to guide and supervise incoming and outgoing aircraft — the fastest mode of transportation to drop rescue personnel, aid packages and supplies to a disaster-hit region. Meanwhile, water treatment is vital due to the pressing demand for clean water. The equipment is desperately needed because a disaster might destroy water sources and facilities.
One last element to measure military professionalism is its attitude or response to the political dynamics in the country, including the simultaneous presidential and legislation elections in April.
Indeed, TNI commander Air Chief Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto, like previous military commanders, has ordered all soldiers to uphold impartiality in the upcoming political event. We shall see whether the instruction will be implemented in the field when the time comes.
Happy 73rd anniversary TNI!