Indonesia beefs up air and sea defences

The KRI Lepu 861 is one of two new patrol boats launched by Indonesia's Navy this week.
The KRI Lepu 861 is one of two new patrol boats launched by Indonesia's Navy this week.PHOTO: F. PANGESTU

It launches two patrol boats while aiming to expand aerial reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities

Indonesia's bid to secure its maritime territories continues with the launch of two new Navy patrol boats in Batam.

The christening of the PC-40M class vessels on Thursday took place a day after the Air Force announced plans to strengthen its aerial reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities by expanding its fleet of spy planes.

Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Akal Juang told journalists in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Wednesday that the aerial reinforcements will support naval operations against illegal fishing, smuggling and other border incursions.

According to a report in The Jakarta Post, the Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron has five military aircraft with high-resolution cameras and other equipment for air reconnaissance missions.

But the Air Force confirmed that more of such aircraft will be added to the squadron in time.

Navy Chief Admiral Ade Supandi on Thursday said the two new patrol boats - the KRI Torani 860 and KRI Lepu 861 - will be deployed with the Western Fleet, and patrol the Strait of Malacca, as ordered by President Joko Widodo.

The Strait of Malacca and the Singapore Strait are among the world's busiest sea routes.

With the two new vessels, the Navy now has 19 fast patrol boats, but plans to increase the number to 42 and deploy them from 14 naval bases across Indonesia.

This means naval patrols "will no longer be concentrated in one area as before", added Adm Ade, without specifying the area.

The move to shore up Indonesia's sea and air defence capabilities is in line with Mr Joko's ambition to establish the country, the fourth most populous nation in the world, as a maritime power.

The plan is backed by a presidential decree that incorporates his vision of a "Global Maritime Fulcrum", said Indonesia analyst Keoni Marzuki of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The decree had identified maritime defence, security and law enforcement as key pillars of Indonesia's policy on sovereignty over its territorial waters.

Indonesia increased its defence spending by almost 10 per cent to 108.7 trillion rupiah (S$11.5 billion) last year, amid tensions in the region fuelled by Beijing's overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Experts have said the archipelagic state will want to flex its military muscle as territorial disputes continue to occur.

China claims almost all of the sea lane - brazenly setting up military bases on artificial islands in the area - while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

Jakarta is not a party to the disputes but became concerned after Beijing declared in March last year that the waters around the Natunas, which lie within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone, are part of its "traditional fishing grounds".

Chinese fishing boats have also been among those regularly caught poaching in Indonesian waters, as the South-east Asian nation enforces its maritime borders.

To show that it means business, Jakarta has sunk more than 220 foreign vessels caught fishing illegally in its waters in the past two years.

Adm Ade said the Navy will continue to secure the waterway to ensure it remains conducive for economic activity.

"The conditions in the Strait of Malacca today are much safer," he added. "But there is still crime, particularly smuggling activities."

Indonesia will also take part in anti-piracy patrols with the Philippines and Malaysia next month, following a string of kidnappings and beheadings by Islamist militants from the Abu Sayyaf group operating in the Sulu Sea, which lies between Borneo island and the southern Philippines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia beefs up air and sea defences'. Print Edition | Subscribe