All eyes are now on a national, indeed multinational, operation to locate the KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, which went missing with 53 crew on board north of Bali during a torpedo drill on Wednesday afternoon. Our prayers go to not only the crew, but also to those involved in the search and rescue effort as they race against time.
Navy chief of staff Adm. Yudo Margono said on Thursday the oxygen supply in the event of a blackout, as might be the case of KRI Nanggala, would last 72 hours. With the clock ticking, every second will count in this life-saving operation.
Singapore, Malaysia and Australia have responded to Indonesia’s call for help while other nations, including the United States, Germany, France, Turkey, India and Russia have offered assistance.
A slight hope arose on Thursday as Navy ship KRI Pulau Rimau detected a high magnetic object at about 100 meters below the sea surface, according to Yudo. Previously oil slicks were spotted in several different locations.
As we hope the rescue team will find the submarine as soon as possible, the accident serves as yet another reminder of the need to continue modernizing our military capability, particularly that of our naval force given the country’s vast maritime territory along with its rich resources that we must protect.
KRI Nanggala, which was built in Germany in 1977 and joined the Navy’s fleet in 1981 and underwent a two-year refit in South Korea, is one of only five submarines the country operates. Each of the submarines bears a heavy responsibility safeguarding 650,000 square kilometers of Indonesian waters.
In terms of its submarine fleet, Indonesia, dubbed the world’s largest archipelagic state, lags behind fellow ASEAN member countries. Close neighbor Singapore reportedly operates 20 submarines, while Vietnam has six. Asian giant China has 79, the biggest fleet in the continent.
The accident came just after Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto returned from South Korea, where he discussed the future of defense cooperation between Indonesia and the East Asian country, including the joint production of jet fighters and the possible purchase of submarines.
Indonesia has bought three submarines from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, including one that was built at state shipbuilder PT PAL in Surabaya, East Java. Clearly the purchase deal took into account transfers of technology, which are mandated by the 2012 Defense Industry Law.
Prabowo said Indonesia should operate at least 12 submarines to meet the Minimum Essential Force target, a medium-term military modernization that will end in 2024.
Since his appointment as defense minister, Prabowo has toured a number of countries known for their prominent defense industries to seek the possibility of buying arms and obtaining access to military technology that Indonesia badly needs because it cannot depend on imported arms for ever. History shows overseas arms purchases have been prone to politicization and embargos.
Military modernization is expensive, and perhaps we will never use the arms for war, which is why good planning is key. Before the money is spent, we need to identify our future threats, hence a defense white paper.
The most urgent mission now, however, is to rescue the KRI Nenggala’s crew.