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Indonesia to ramp up military spending amid regional security challenges

Benar News - December 1, 2023

Pizaro Gozali Idrus, Jakarta – Indonesia's decision to increase defense spending by 20% next year shows that the country is prioritizing building up its armed forces and arsenal amid a U.S.-China rivalry in Southeast Asia, analysts said.

To guard against a potential escalation of regional tensions between the superpowers, Indonesia will need capital to replace outdated military equipment even as Jakarta has acknowledged it will have to rely on foreign loans to fund a bigger defense budget, observers said.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that the defense budget would rise from U.S. $20.75 billion (321 trillion rupiah) to $25 billion (387 trillion rupiah), partly funded by foreign debt.

Khairul Fahmi, a researcher at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies, said Indonesia was nearing the deadline to achieve its Minimum Essential Force strategy by 2024.

"We also face the problem of the gap between our actual and desired capabilities, especially in the air and naval sectors," he told BenarNews.

Fahmi said the air force was the weakest among the three branches of the Indonesian military and needed new fighter-jets.

"We need to upgrade and maintain our existing defense equipment, as well as procure new ones, to avoid operational failures and incidents," he said. "We need a robust defense posture to anticipate the escalation of threats in a dynamic and volatile geopolitical environment."

While Indonesia is not a territorial claimant in the South China Sea, its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps Beijing's claims in the waterway. Bilateral diplomatic tensions have arisen in recent years from Chinese fishing boats and coast guard ships encroaching on Indonesia's EEZ.

China has demanded that Indonesia stop drilling for oil and gas, alleging in an unprecedented diplomatic note in 2021 that these activities were occurring in South China Sea waters it claims, an Indonesian lawmaker has said.

In September, Indonesia hosted a joint military exercise involving all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a potential 11th member, Timor-Leste.

The five-day non-combat exercise was held to "show joint agency [cooperation], regardless of the contention and rivalry between great powers," said Muhammad Waffaa Kharisma, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, referring to the U.S. and China.

Potential political benefit

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who is running for president in the February 2024 general election, could benefit electorally from the budget increase if some defense projects are approved before the vote, Fahmi said.

"Postponing the projects for fear of boosting Prabowo's popularity as a presidential candidate would risk weakening the defense capability," he said.

Since becoming defense minister in 2019, Prabowo has visited weapons-producing countries including the United States, Russia, China and France to secure deals.

Defense officials have sought to acquire new military hardware including fighter-jets, patrol boats and submarines, as part of its five-year strategic plan ending in 2024. The plan also emphasizes the need for surveillance and territorial defense capabilities including radar, drones and other detection devices.

The Indonesian Air Force operates a mix of fighter-jets including the U.S.-made Northrop F-5 Tiger and the F-16, the Russian-made Sukhoi SU-27/30 and the British-made Hawk 100/200.

Defense officials said some of the aircraft are aging and need to be replaced or upgraded.

Beni Sukadis, a military analyst at Marapi Consulting, a defense and security think-tank, said the budget increase would provide flexibility and stability for the defense projects.

"With the high complexity of military modernization projects such as defense equipment procurement, the use of foreign debt enables it to meet the financial needs without disrupting domestic financial stability," he said.

He also said the government should explain the rationale behind the spending hike to avoid public suspicion and scrutiny.

"Without an explanation, suspicions that the budget increase will be associated with the election can develop as a valid public opinion," he said.

Source: https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/indonesian/defense-budget-12012023134559.htm