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Jakarta Post

The thorn in modernization of primary weapons system

  • Al Araf and Hussein Ahmad

    -

Jakarta   /   Mon, August 3, 2020   /   10:35 am
The thorn in modernization of primary weapons system New fighter: The first Austrian military jet fighter "Eurofighter Typhoon" lands on the military airport in the small Styrian village of Zeltweg July 12, 2007. (Reuters/Leonhard Foeger)

The modernization of the primary weapons system (Alutsista) is essential in order to increase the capacity of a country’s defense forces. The growing complexity of threats, followed by swift changes and advances in defense technology, has forced many countries to improve and strengthen the capacity of their weapons.

In Indonesia, the defense system modernization is manifested in the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) program in the reform era. The government, through the Ministry of Defense, musters various plans and policies to restructure the country’s defense equipment. As is the case, the restructuring of defense equipment must be done in accordance with the direction of the government’s defense policy, a direction that can be seen from the national defense posture development policy as well as the MEF formulated by the Defense Ministry.

In reality, the procurement of defense equipment is often constrained by a shoestring budget. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the economy hard, the procurement of Alutsista must be done particularly on target and with extra caution, as the state budget has become even more limited.

Moreover, the procurement process of the primary weapons system in Indonesia must comply with the previously formulated strategic plan. Such a process cannot diverge from the strategic plan prepared by the government. In a number of cases in the past, the procurement of defense equipment deviated from the direction of strategic policy, as seen in the procurement of Leopard tanks.

Changes to the procurement policy may occur only when there is a dynamic shift in the strategic environment that forces Indonesia to adjust its defense policy.

After the passage of Law No. 16/2012 on the defense industry, the procurement process needs to take the domestic defense industry into account. The law requires procurement of all defense equipment to prioritize the domestic defense industry. Only if the domestic defense industry is unable to provide what is needed can the government buy it from abroad with an “offset” in the form of transfers of technology or other forms of cooperation.

In addition, the procurement process must consider the interests and needs of the Indonesian Military (TNI) as the users of the defense equipment. In achieving this, the procurement of used defense equipment must always be avoided. Indonesia’s past experiences have proven that numerous used Alutsista purchased from abroad have endangered the lives of soldiers as their standard is far from ideal.

The practice of procuring used defense equipment has become a thorn in the country’s Alutsista modernization. Indonesia has purchased a large amount of used defense equipment before, including the Parchim class battleships from then-East Germany, Leopard tanks from the German Army, Lockheed C-130 Hercules formerly owned by the Royal Australian Air Force and F-16 fighter jets from the US Air Force.

Looking back, the F-16 that burst into flames in 2015 was a painful experience for Indonesia. Then-Air Force chief of staff Air Chief Marshal Agus Supriatna said the used F-16 aircraft had a leak in its hydraulic system, resulting in a flawed braking system. More surprisingly, the aircraft was not equipped with a drag chute system, which turned out to be fatal.

As if to ignore past mistakes, Indonesia has recently announced a plan to buy used Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from Austria.

The Typhoons, bought in 2002, belong to the early generation (tranche 1), which are out of date. The aircraft has sparked debate in Austria because of its high maintenance and operational costs. For that reason, the Austrian government plans to replace the entire Typhoon fleet with a newer model, the Swedish Grippen C/D.

Austria’s procurement of the Typhoons was also tainted by a bribery and corruption case. In 2017, the Austrian government filed a lawsuit against Airbus in the Munich Court in Germany for alleged bribery between a consortium of Eurofighter Typhoon makers and Austrian officials. It was estimated that the Austrian government lost about 1.1 billion euro from a total contract of nearly 2 billion euro as a result of the fraud. The case ended with Airbus obliged to pay a fine of 81.25 million euros. Airbus is said to still face legal proceedings in connection with the bribery case in an Austrian court.

Procurement and retrofitting processes of used Alutsista tend to lead to scandals because of uncertain procurement indicators. Indonesia’s procurement of defense equipment has been plagued by irregularities. Indonesia scored a D in the 2015 Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index by Transparency International, which means the risk of corruption within the military and defense sector in the country remains high. Weak transparency, a lack of accountability and a lack of public participation in the procurement process are among the contributing factors. Neighboring Singapore and Australia scored a B, low risk.

Issues in the defense sector must be taken seriously. It is important to note that in any alleged corruption within the defense sector, the security of citizens is at stake. Moreover, gambling with the lives of Indonesian soldiers has to stop.

The lack of oversight in the defense sector provides a fertile ground for corruption. In dealing with the complexity of this problem, several breakthroughs can be made.

First, all arms procurement needs to be accountable to the public. The House of Representatives and the government should engage with civil society to oversee the defense policy, budget and procurement mechanism. This has actually been done in several countries by involving non-governmental organizations and academics as public representatives in the bidding supervisory team.

The second breakthrough should be transparency. No financing using the state budget should be shielded under the pretext of confidentiality. When it comes to military strategy, secrecy is a must, but that does not apply in terms of funding.

Third, military court reform is pressing to build accountability within the defense sector. The disclosure of alleged graft cases in the defense sector is often hampered under the pretext of military court jurisdiction, as occurred in the procurement of Sukhoi jets.

To this end, a revision of Law No. 31/1997 on military courts is urgently needed, bearing in mind that this was a mandate of the People’s Consultative Assembly Decree and Law No. 34/2004 on the Indonesian Military (TNI). Without military court reform, the modernization of Alutsista in Indonesia will face potential fraud.

The government should learn from experience when procuring used defense equipment, whether they are aircraft, ships or tanks. Efforts to modernize the TNI’s Alutsista to strengthen national defense must be supported. The TNI needs to be equipped with better, stronger and more modern defense equipment to support its main tasks and functions in protecting the country’s territory.

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Al Araf is the director of Imparsial (The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor). Hussein Ahmad is a researcher at the same institution.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.