Indonesia says airborne exercise over Natuna not linked to South China Sea tensions

Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi fighter jets land after training for an upcoming military exercise at Hang Nadim Airport, Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia on Oct 3, 2016.
Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi fighter jets land after training for an upcoming military exercise at Hang Nadim Airport, Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia on Oct 3, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - A training exercise involving fighter jets that is set to be held in the vicinity of the Natuna Islands this week is part of a regular military exercise, an Indonesian minister has said, delinking the drill from tensions over the South China Sea.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said the Angkasa Yudha airborne training module organised by the air force had been conducted several times in the past.

"It's not the first airborne exercise we have carried out. We have done it several times. This military training exercise will be conducted by the Indonesian military in Indonesian territory. It's not in the South China Sea, but in Natuna," Ms Retno said in response to queries raised by journalists at the Foreign Ministry office on Tuesday (Oct 4).

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is scheduled to visit Natuna on Thursday (Oct 6), partly to inspect the Angkasa Yudha airborne training module, which will reportedly be conducted above Natuna and the South China Sea.

Mr Retno said she had also been invited to witness the airborne training module.

Thirteen F-16 jet fighters will be deployed on the day, during which they are set to fly over areas bordering the neighbouring South China Sea, according to Antara news agency.

"Ten will be ready for use while three will remain on stand by," Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base commander Air Commander Henri Alfiandi said.

This will be Mr Joko's second visit to Natuna in the last five months after he visited the area to inspect naval patrols on the border of the South China Sea on June 23.

The president is also scheduled to inaugurate the newly expanded Ranai Airport.

China, while not disputing Indonesia's clams to the Natuna islands, has raised Indonesian anger by saying the two countries had "over-lapping claims" to waters near them.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about US$5 trillion (S$6.8 trillion) worth of trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

While Indonesia is not part of the dispute over claims in the South China Sea, it objects to China's inclusion of waters around the Natuna Islands within its "nine-dash line", a demarcation line used by China to show its claims in the sea.