The Indonesian military will have a bigger budget this year to add more firepower to its arsenal in the air, on land and sea after Parliament yesterday agreed to raise the country's defence kitty for this year.
The nearly 10 per cent increase to 108.7 trillion rupiah (S$11 billion) comes amid recent tensions in the region fuelled by Beijing's overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
A large chunk of the funds will likely go to upgrades for its military assets in areas such as the Natuna Islands, said Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu yesterday.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims.
Land reclamation works started by Beijing on the disputed islands and reefs in the area, as well as activities by its fishermen in disputed waters, have raised tensions in the region over the past year.
Indonesia is not a party to the disputes but became concerned after Beijing in March said the waters around the Natuna Islands, which are within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, are part of its "traditional fishing grounds".
- On the shopping list?
•Sukhoi Su-35 (above) fighter jets from Russia
•Raytheon AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, or Amraams, from the United States
•Airbus A400M military transport aircraft (above) from Europe
•Diesel submarines from Russia, France and others
•Korean Fighter Experimental or KF-X next-generation fighter jets from South Korea
•ShinMaywa Industries' US-2 amphibious, search and rescue fixed-wing aircraft from Japan
PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
News of the increase in Indonesia's defence budget comes after President Joko Widodo visited the Natunas last Thursday on a warship, in what was meant to be a strong signal that Jakarta is serious about defending the country's sovereignty over its maritime territories.
During a Cabinet meeting held on board the naval warship, Mr Joko asked for patrols in the Natunas to be stepped up. "I want the military and our coast guard to have improved radar technology, as well as better patrol capability," he added.
While there were no references to China as the House passed the defence budget yesterday, Beijing's expanding military reach in South-east Asia has led to rising military spending in the region, according to defence publication IHS Jane's. It has forecast that Asia-Pacific defence spending will increase about 23 per cent to US$533 billion (S$720 billion) annually by 2020, placing the region on a par with North America.
Indonesia, for instance, raised its defence spending last year by 16 per cent, and according to a policy paper by Mr Ryamizard, among his ministry's objectives for this year was to increase Indonesia's defence capability "to face threats and potential threats, and strengthen the country's maritime presence by way of fulfilling the minimum essential force by procuring satellites, drone systems and increased mobility capability".
Mr Ryamizard also wrote that he plans to "step up defence capability in defending borders in Kalimantan, Papua, Nusa Tenggara Timur and the small islands near the borders, with the main priority being the Natuna Islands". Mr Joko's administration stated early in his presidency that it plans to triple Indonesia's defence spending by 2019.
The Indonesian military has a long wish list, which includes potential deals to buy between eight and 10 Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, 36 Raytheon AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, or Amraams, from the United States, and the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft from Europe, as well as diesel submarines, among others.
Indonesia signed a US$1.3 billion deal with South Korea in January to jointly develop the Korean Fighter Experimental, or KF-X next generation fighter jet. It was also reportedly interested in acquiring Japan's US-2 amphibious, fixed-wing aircraft for search-and-rescue operations.