19 Agustus 2015
PKR-105 frigates (image : DSNS)
The Indonesian Navy may struggle to meet its Minimum Essential Force targets by 2024. A rethink may be needed.
Almost a year has elapsed since Indonesian President Joko Widodo revealed his Global Maritime Fulcrum vision. Since then, Jakarta has undertaken several initiatives aimed at fulfilling the five pillars of the vision: maritime culture, marine resources, maritime infrastructure and connectivity, maritime diplomacy, and maritime defense.
The last of these pillars is essentially an enabler of the other four pillars and not standalone. When Widodo came to power, he effectively inherited his predecessor’s legacy of modernizing the Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – Angkatan Laut, TNI-AL for short). The challenge is to continue and sustain that modernization.
The contemporary TNI-AL modernization is inspired by the Minimum Essential Force Blueprint conceived over the 2010-24 timeline, executed in three strategic plans (rencana strategis in Bahasa Indonesia, or renstra for short). Renstra I (2010-14) was completed last year. Since then, the TNI-AL is at Renstra II, which runs up to 2019.
The end-state, going by the envisaged plan, is to create a greenwater TNI-AL by 2024 – a service that is balanced and capable of undertaking an array of missions within the immediate regional waters while having limited ability to project force into distant waters.
By 2024, the service is meant to comprise 274 vessels and 137 aircraft of various types. The former category is divided into the Combat Strike Group (110 vessels including 10-12 submarines, 56 frigates and corvettes, 26 missile- and 12 torpedo fast attack craft), the Patrol Group (66 patrol vessels), and a 98-vessel Support Force. The 137 aircraft include up to 35 maritime patrol aircraft.
Ever since Renstra I was kicked into motion, the TNI-AL has ridden the momentum of government support. In January 2013, then Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro announced plans to possibly reduce the renstras to two, aiming to fulfill MEF targets by 2019 instead of 2024. Buoyed by having achieved 28.7 percent of the MEF targets that year, Indonesian military authorities optimistically predicted in 2014 that 40-42 percent will be met by the time Renstra I is completed.
Renstra I (2010-14): “Renaissance” for the TNI-AL?
It would be imperative here to take stock of the gains made by the TNI-AL over Renstra I. Indeed, the period of 2010-14 marked a “renaissance” of sorts for the service following the significant acquisition programs (for example, SIGMA-90 corvettes, Makassar-class landing platform, docks, and Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles) made in the preceding years. These new primary weapon systems (alutsista in Bahasa Indonesia) represent a stark contrast to the malaise suffered by the TNI-AL following the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98.
F2000 light frigates (photo : Joko Sulistyo)
Notwithstanding derogatory comments about the lackluster progress of the TNI-AL modernization efforts, Renstra I did oversee oft-overlooked qualitative improvements to the alutsista Indonesia relies on for maritime defense.
For example, the PKR10514 (modified Dutch SIGMA-105) frigate is equipped with the VL-MICA, a vertically-launched air defense system that can destroy incoming high-performance aerial and missile targets at 20 kilometers. Suffice to say, prior to that, the TNI-AL relied on the Mistral SIMBAD/SADRAL that has only an effective 6-kilometer range. The PKR thus confers on the TNI-AL a real shipboard anti-air warfare capability for the first time.
In 2012, the TNI-AL was poised to revitalize its ageing undersea capability with the acquisition of three submarines from South Korea. A French-built naval research ship KRI Rigel equipped with an advanced autonomous underwater vehicle was commissioned in late 2014. Regrettably, it did not arrive in time to assist in the search and recovery of the ill-fated AirAsia QZ8501.
Other noteworthy qualitative improvements include the induction of new CN235 PATMAR maritime patrol aircraft and most recently AS-656MBe Panther anti-submarine helicopters – altogether representing a major enhancement to the long-underequipped TNI-AL Naval Aviation.
The Korps Marinir, Indonesia’s Marine Corps, undergoes mobility enhancement and mechanization with the purchase of new amphibious fighting vehicles from Russia and Ukraine, along with the construction of the indigenous Teluk Bintuni-class of landing ship, tank.
In all, despite the modest quantities of new alutsista procured, the TNI-AL has attained laudable qualitative improvements. The question remains whether the MEF targets, going by the current pace of modernization efforts, can realistically be met.
In July 2015, outgoing Indonesian military chief General Moeldoko admitted that the envisaged 40-42 percent of MEF targets could not be met. Instead, by the end of Renstra I only 34 percent had been attained. Moeldoko’s successor, General Gatot Nurmantyo is expected to boost this figure to 68 percent. However, this means ramping up expenditures.
In March this year, Moeldoko cautioned that defense expenditures, set at Rp102 trillion ($7.7 billion), will be increased to around Rp109 trillion by 2017 only if the economy grows by 7 percent. The sustainability of MEF is thus irrevocably contingent on sustained economic growth in order to reach its envisaged 2024 targets.
Sigma 90 corvettes (photo : Kaskus Militer)
But time is conspiring against modernization efforts; the TNI-AL’s alutsista is aging. By 2008 (pre-Renstra I) about 74 percent of the alutsista optimized for maritime defense were aged 20 years or more, 15 percent between 11 and 19 years, and barely 11 percent counted as “young” – at 10 years or less. These figures had improved by the time Renstra I was completed, at 67 percent, 11 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in the fall of 2014.
It will be misleading to say that such improvements are attributed solely to Renstra I. In fact, results attained by the close of 2014 were in no small part due to the pre-Renstra I projects, for example the delivery of new SIGMA corvettes in 2007-10.
Compounding the problem of aging equipment is also the issue of relying on second-hand procurements as the alternative. For example, by the time the three British-built Multi-Role Light Frigates originally intended for Brunei were delivered to the TNI-AL in late 2014, they were already past a decade old.
Certainly for a fiscally constrained Indonesia, new assets entail high costs, especially when procured overseas. The required fiscal, human and material investments are substantial, since it is not enough to just purchase platforms – the associated supporting infrastructure, logistics, and training are also essential.
This invariably limits the quantity that can be purchased at any one time. For instance, the TNI-AL has originally planned for a total of 40 SIGMAs to be procured by 2015. But as of 2014, the force size of this type had stalled at just four vessels. A pair of more capable PKR10514 only began construction in recent months.
However, the commonly used alternative approach of buying second-hands is not sustainable in the long run, as a result of age and the potential risk of accidents. Moreover, second-hand buys may come with a superficially attractive price tag but still entail “hidden costs.”
For example, Jakarta purchased 39 former East German warships at $468-million, but had to spend another $800 million on refurbishment and requisite supporting infrastructure. Other “hidden costs” include inflated operating expenditures. An Indonesian government audit conducted in 2007 found that the TNI-AL had squandered Rp64 billion in petroleum, oil, and lubricants consumption attributable to aging warships.
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