Indonesia's new air force chief sworn in

Air Marshal Hadi (left) and President Joko are said to have developed a close friendship when they were both based in Solo.
Air Marshal Hadi (left) and President Joko are said to have developed a close friendship when they were both based in Solo.PHOTO: ISTANA PERS

Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto has been sworn in by President Joko Widodo as Indonesia's new air force chief, fuelling talk of an impending change in the country's armed forces (TNI) leadership.

Air Marshal Hadi, who was serving as the Defence Ministry's Inspector-General, had been widely tipped as Mr Joko's preferred candidate to take over from TNI chief Gatot Nurmantyo.

The question now is when General Gatot, who is due to officially retire only in 2018, will step down. There has been speculation recently that the four-star general may be removed earlier, in part over his decision to suspend ties with the Australian Defence Force late last year.

The unilateral move, as well as reports of a rift with the President, has cast doubts on whether Gen Gatot will serve out his term.

However, he denied reports that he had been reproached by Mr Joko over the issue. "As I've said before, everything I've done (is acknowledged) by the President as he is my commander. Such warnings are not true," he told reporters during a Christmas celebration at the TNI headquarters last Wednesday.

Yesterday, Air Marshal Hadi pipped National Resilience Institute deputy governor Bagus Puruhito and air force deputy chief of staff Hadiyan Sumintaatmadja for the four-star post of air force chief.

Air Marshal Hadi, 53, who replaces Chief Marshal Agus Supriatna, is a trained pilot and career military officer, and said to be a close ally of the President. He was commander of the Adi Sumarmo air force base in Solo in 2010 and 2011, while Mr Joko was mayor of the city between 2005 and 2012. The two men are said to have developed a close friendship when they were based there.

Mr Joko promoted Air Marshal Hadi to presidential military secretary in 2015. The next year, Air Marshal Hadi received his third star when he was appointed Inspector-General.

After his inauguration yesterday, he said one of his key priorities would be a zero-accident rate in the air force.

"I have a programme to conduct more transparent planning when it comes to the procurement of equipment... to allow all of our air resources to operate safely," he added.

Air Marshal Hadi also has plans to beef up Indonesia's air defence capabilities by adding more early-warning radar systems across the country, adding that as the world's largest archipelagic nation, 20 such systems are not enough.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia's new air force chief sworn in'. Print Edition | Subscribe