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Jakarta Post

Beyond defense modernization

  • Evan A. Laksmana

    The Jakarta Post

New York   /   Wed, June 11, 2014   /  09:42 am

As the presidential race heats up, contenders are putting forth their visions, including their defense policy agendas.

In the absence of a specific and solid vision from former general Prabowo Subianto, the propositions of Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo are the best we have '€” and worth examining further.

According to his 41-page action plan, he has four main defense priorities.

First, continue supporting the professionalism of the Indonesian Military (TNI) by improving soldiers'€™ welfare and its main weapons systems by increasing the defense budget to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) within five years.

Second, seek defense independence by reducing foreign technological imports, strengthening the domestic defense industry and diversifying Indonesia'€™s defense partnerships.

Third, complete the military'€™s Minimum Essential Force (MEF) blueprint and build it so that it eventually becomes a respectable maritime force in East Asia.

Finally, place defense policy as an integral part of a comprehensive and resilient national security system that reorders various defense, internal security, public safety and human security functions managed by the National Security Council (DKN).

The DKN has been among the centerpieces of Indonesia'€™s post-authoritarian security reform '€” but its creation has thus far been fraught by difficulties in passing the national security bill.

A regional maritime power vision, meanwhile, hinges on the first two priorities '€” perhaps better encapsulated by '€œdefense modernization'€.

Indeed, Indonesia has been in a decade-long drive to obtain state-of-the-art weaponry, including, among others, more than 100 main battle tanks, several attack submarines and corvettes, a few squadrons of multi-role fighters and ground-attack aircraft, as well as dozens of new infantry fighting vehicles.

Indonesia'€™s next president, however, should look beyond '€œdefense modernization'€ and consider instead a well-rounded '€œdefense transformation'€ agenda.

Firstly, transformation is not only about increasing the defense budget. It is about strategically spending it.

While Indonesia'€™s defense budget has more than tripled in the past decade, it has never constituted more than 1 percent of GDP; a comparatively small proportion for a nation of 250 million spread over 17,000 islands. Thus, Jokowi'€™s '€œ1.5 percent of GDP'€ goal is a step in the right direction.

But around two-thirds of the budget has traditionally been for personnel-related costs rather than for acquisition and research and development (R&D).

According to IHS Jane'€™s projections, personnel spending between 2010 and 2017 will, on average, be around US$4.79 billion annually, while procurement and R&D spending will average $1.45 billion and $150 million, respectively. This ratio is unsustainable if becoming a regional maritime force is a serious goal.

Secondly, assuming that defense autarchy could be achieved '€” though many studies have told us otherwise '€” how we reinvigorate the domestic defense industrial base while integrating it with the broader national economy and the underdeveloped human capital, technological know-how and basic infrastructure, remains a question mark.

This is particularly the case when the 2012 Defense Industry Law'€™s technological offset, countertrade and joint venture policies relating to foreign arms deals have been criticized for their lofty and vague benchmarks as well as for failing to account for a lack of transparency in procurement procedures. Transparency International'€™s Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index lists Indonesia as a '€œvery high risk'€ country.

Thirdly, while diversifying defense partners is intuitively appealing '€” especially given the disastrous arms embargo of the 1990s '€” our arms spree over the past two decades has gradually become supplier-driven rather than capabilities-driven.

As a result, the TNI has been operating 173 different medium and advanced weapon platforms imported from 17 different countries by 2006. This entails significant costs in terms of long-term maintenance and personnel training '€” not to mention the more than occasional operational readiness and interoperability problems.

Fourthly, the absence of coherent, long-term capabilities planning and a tri-service institutional structure and culture means that arms modernization has been reduced to a shopping list for individual services.

The blueprint for the MEF lists each service'€™s required platforms without considering associated integration, maintenance and training costs '€” or the need for long-term platform alignment and standardization plans. Further, total procurement spending is to be divided almost evenly between the Army, Navy and Air Force until 2024; despite the three services'€™ different operational readiness, capability requirements and imbalanced force sizes, as well as Indonesia'€™s predominantly maritime geostrategic position.

Finally, transformation requires a focus on more elementary challenges: personnel management, military education and training, and organizational structure.

The launch of the Indonesian Defense University in 2009, offering graduate-level education to both civilians and military personnel, is a step in the right direction '€” as is the recent prioritization of education and training by TNI leaders

However, a review of the TNI'€™s education curricula suggests that non-military (mostly sociopolitical) courses continue to make up a significant proportion of available classes, though to a lesser extent than under the New Order. Thus, we need to accelerate ongoing efforts to revamp the TNI'€™s operational doctrines as the lynchpin of educational reform.

Meanwhile, even though overseas education and training opportunities have expanded, messy personnel policies have created promotional logjams as the number of available posts shrunk while the officer corps grew from around 46,000 in 2004 to more than 52,000 in 2009. Consequently, tours of duty and area have become shorter while higher educational qualifications potentially drag career prospects.

More importantly, the TNI'€™s current Order of Battle still reflects the New Order organizational structure. Too many personnel are allocated to '€œterritorial'€ postings rather than combat commands and posts. This structure needs to be revamped. A leaner tri-service command oriented more toward the changing external strategic environment and less toward internal security and staffed with better-educated officers, can capitalize on advanced technology to compensate for reductions in territorial personnel.

The bottom line is that defense transformation is not about fulfilling material needs. It is about institutional and paradigmatic shifts on how the military views and structures itself, educates and trains its members, as well as how it equips itself and plans to fight.

The writer is a researcher with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta. He is also a PhD candidate at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University, the US, and a non-resident fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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