November 13, 2012
Indonesia - the fourth most populous country in the world and a member of the planet's elite G-20 Club - "is still under the radar" as regards her defence expenditure, which accounts for just 0.7% of her Gross Domestic Product (compared to 4.7% for the USA and 10% for Saudi Arabia according to 2011 data by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Those were the words of Indonesian Vice President H. Boediono at the opening last week in Jakarta of the 5thIndo Defence, Indo Aerospace and Indo Marine 2012 Expo & Forum. The forum is considered by world arms experts to be one of the premier events of its kind in all of Asia-Pacific.
This very modest level was reached only "in recent years [after] the spending has increased dramatically in order to fulfill the minimum essential force requirements", added Boediono.
It's absolutely clear that defence expenditure in Indonesia (which also currently happens to be the world's Number Two in economic growth) would be going up very fast very soon. The country is buying 100 Leopard tanks from Germany, Su fighter jets from Russia and F-16s from the USA, submarines from South Korea and supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles again from Russia.
"Currently all countries in Southeast Asia without a single exception are rapidly building up their military muscle,” says Igor Korotchenko, current director of the Russian independent Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT). There are two main reasons for this. First, this part of the world is highly conflict-prone due to claims by some countries both inside and outside of this region for an exclusive control over important island territories; and, second, huge oil and gas reserves at its shelf are also a subject of heated debate."
At Indo Defence 2012 there was no lack of praise for Russian arms by the Indonesian military.
Deputy Navy commander Marsetio even recalled that Russian-made amphibious tanks bought by Indonesia in 1962 are still in use here 50 years later.
One very important element is missing, however, from the "the giant of the Southeast Asia" current buying list above: That's the modern integrated air defence solutions.
Strange as it may seem, the largest archipelago on Earth still doesn’t have a significant air defense system, aside from few short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (British Rapier, Polish Kobra with Grom MANPADS’ missiles, and Chinese TD-2000B with QW-4 missiles) and MANPADS (Swedish RBS-70, French Mistral and Chinese QW-1 and QW-3) that are operational with its Army and Air Force.
That was the reason Rosoboronexport, the sole Russian state mediator in arms' exports (by the way, the logic for having such a monopoly is minimizing the corruption in this highly lucrative sphere of trade) was entering Indo Defence 2012 with a suggestion to develop for Indonesia an integrated national system of air defence. And the same ideas were voiced by the leading producer of Russian air defence products - Almaz-Antey Air Defense Concern that was ranked in 2011 as 25th on Defense News’ Top 100 list of the world’s biggest defense manufacturers (Russians are traditionally very strong in air defence - that is an inheritance from the Soviet era).
"We are offering Indonesia a wonderful thing: an integrated air defence system. That is, certain kinds of armaments do thier job at the farthest range, then after they send rockets middle range weapons spring into action - and thus up to the closest range. But there is no branch in the Indonesian Armed Forces that is in charge of that. Air Force has its own tasks, but it won’t be able to prevent a missile from hitting a factory. And the troops on the ground wait till the menace is very, very close," - explains Rosoboronexport deputy director general Victor Komardin
"We are saying: Look, you really needs this. Look, what's happening in the world," he continues.
Neighbouring Malaysia already heeded to the Russian urge and created a special task force in charge of an integrated air defence system.
"But Indonesia hasn't yet done even that - and that is why although we still consider this suggestion a very promising one, we can't name it as having top priority from the practical point of view yet," laments Komardin.