Jakarta – Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto seems to have put the controversy over the whopping arms procurement budget behind him, as he recently toured France and Germany to forge military cooperation between Indonesia and the two members of the elite Group of 7 (G-7).
Given that both France and Germany are known for their advanced military technology and Indonesia is a buyer of their defence equipment, it is likely that Mr Prabowo's European trip aimed to further arms procurement discussions to modernise the Indonesian Military (TNI).
As a former army general, Mr Prabowo's concern about the country's ageing primary weaponry system is understandable, hence the planned arms procurement budget, totalling US$125 billion (S$168 billion) for 2020 to 2024, which recently sparked a furor.
Mr Prabowo's diplomacy in Paris resulted in the signing of a defence cooperation agreement (DCA) that will lay the foundation for mutually beneficial defence ties in the future.
For Indonesia, the DCA is of strategic importance as it will enable the country to advance the professional standard of its soldiers through education and training and the capacity of its defence industry through transfers of technology.
The agreement, signed on June 28, capped a year of negotiations between the defence authorities of the two countries, which took place amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
France has had among the highest national mortality rates from the virus but looks to have gotten the outbreak under control.
On the contrary, Indonesia is entering the most critical moment in its fight against Covid-19.
The DCA also opens up possibilities for the two countries to maximise their competitive advantage through cooperation in wide-ranging fields, such as cybertechnology, counterterrorism and peacekeeping missions.
Mr Prabowo's visit to Berlin is no less strategic, as he discussed with Deputy Defence Minister Thomas Silberhorn future cooperation in the fields of training, education, peacekeeping operations and development of weaponry systems.
German shipbuilder Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems, for one, offered to sell its type 214, diesel-fired submarines to Indonesia in March. Indonesia has bought war machines from Germany before, ranging from tanks to submarines.
The recently sunken Nanggala-402 was built in Kiel, Germany, in 1981 and joined the Indonesian naval fleet in 1989.
Negotiation is presumably underway between Indonesian officials and their French and German counterparts, including to seal arms sales agreements. In fact, Mr Prabowo has been looking around for the best deals.
Over the last two years he has flown to Europe, China, Japan and the United States for that purpose.
It is no coincidence that reports of Indonesia lobbying the US government to buy arms have circulated. A Foreign Agents Registration Act document dated June 21 says the Defence Ministry has hired a law office for consultation services related to its plan to purchase military equipment from the US.
It is Mr Prabowo's job to strengthen the national defence force, but to prevent the uproar over the planned arms procurement budget for 2020-2024 from recurring, transparency is needed.
The public had been in the dark about the weapons procurement talks until one day they were surprised by the arrest of certain officials for allegedly marking up the arms budget.
– The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network