Worried about China, Indonesia spending money on modernizing navy

FREMM Frigate “Alsace”
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Indonesia is embarking on a program to modernize its navy and build an effective deterrent to counter acts of encroachment on its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) along its northern maritime boundary.

Increased purchase of aircraft and warships

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Panjaitan has emphasized the need to build a “cross-ocean” surface combat force to protect the country’s fishery resources in the North Natuna Sea. 

After the incident that a Chinese survey ship escorted by two armed coast guard ships allegedly entered Indonesian waters and harassed gas exploration activities in 2021, Jakarta is more concerned about the potential threats to the country what might happen next.

Indonesia has 2 locally produced Sigma-class frigates and 5 Van Speijk-class frigates – built in the 60s but their range is quite limited, from 6,000 to 9,000km.  The navy‘s core fleet of 24 corvettes, including 14 that were acquired from the German Navy in 1993 and are about to be retired.

To strengthen the navy’s capacity, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto signed a contract to buy two British Type 31 frigates, expected to be built at the Surabaya factory belonging to the state-owned shipbuilder PT PAL (Indonesia) signed a contract to buy 6 new multi-purpose FREMM frigates and 2 upgraded Maestrale-class light frigates from Italy.

Type 31 frigates
Type 31 frigates

Type 31 frigate weighs 5,100 tons, has a range of 17,000km, a maximum speed of 30 knots. It is armed with Sea Ceptor air defense missiles, AugustaWestland Wildcat or Sikorsky Seahawk helicopters capable of launching anti-ship missiles and light torpedoes.

The Royal Navy currently owns five similar frigates, but many military experts say the basic design of Type 31 could be altered to meet a range of requirements specific to its operations.

This $720 million frigate deal will be a win for Indonesia as the country benefits from the technology transfer, which not only helps in making domestic weapons but also helps develop the shipbuilding industry. 

In addition, Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri also announced that it will build six FREMM frigates with a total cost of up to 4.5 billion USD. FREMM is one of the most modern multi-purpose frigates in Europe today, with 18 active ships with 5 countries’ navies.

With a maximum displacement of 6,000 tons, the FREMM-class frigate is capable of reaching speeds of up to 27 knots, the range of which is 6,000 knots.

Meeting the needs of naval modernization

In addition to the warships mentioned above, Mr. Subianto is also considering buying more Boeing F-15EX Eagle II and Dassault Rafale fighter jets to strengthen the front-line fleet of 33 F-16 fighters 16 Su-27 & Su-30 fighter jets.

Indonesia air force Su-27 and Su-30 fighter aircraft
Indonesia air force Su-27 and Su-30 fighter aircraft

Indonesian Air Force Commander Fadjar Prasetyo recently said that the country had decided to abandon its plan to buy Russian Su-35 multi-role fighter because of concerns about US economic sanctions. Indonesia will rely largely on foreign loans to finance a $125 billion military modernization program over the next 25 years, according to classified documents from the Indonesian Defense Ministry.

“Many of our defense systems have become old, so replacing them is essential,” noted Prabowo Subianto, stressing the need to respond to “an always-on environment. change”.

However, Minister Prabowo Subianto and many other Indonesian defense officials did not mention much of China’s “aggressive behavior” in the North Natuna Sea.

According to maritime observers, China appears to have conducted little military activity in the South China Sea in the past two months, but the US dispatch of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, and the Wasp Essex-class amphibious assault ship and ships escorting into the southern part of the South China Sea on January 12 could anger Beijing and take retaliatory actions.

Muhamad Haripin, a researcher at the Center for Political Studies of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, said that one of the reasons why Indonesia has stepped up to buy military hardware is concerns about China’s growing aggression in the East Sea region. 

Maritime challenges from China and major power rivalry in Southeast Asia will inevitably require Indonesia to further modernize its navy in the coming years.

Whether Indonesia will complete its modernization drive remains to be seen, but it certainly has a chance to build a better navy to protect the vast waterways that Jakarta offers. “plays an important role”.

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