Subject: ST/McBeth: Maintaining airworthiness is key

Also Department of Defense Agree to Military Unit Observer

The Straits Times (Singapore) December 21, 2006


Maintaining airworthiness is key

John McBeth, Senior Writer

JAKARTA - THE United States may have finally lifted the arms embargo imposed on Indonesia in the wake of the 1991 East Timor massacre, but it could be decades before Jakarta puts its trust in one supplier for its defence equipment.

The Indonesian military is pressing ahead with the purchase of six Russian-built, twin-engine Sukhoi jet fighters to add to the four that were delivered three years ago. Theoretically, at least, they are meant to complement the air force's US-built F-16s, which have been decimated by shortages of spare parts.

Indonesia has always been obsessed with protecting its sovereignty, but the 2004 territorial dispute with Malaysia over Borneo's Ambalat oil concession was, in the words of one senior Indonesian defence official, a 'defining moment' in convincing planners of the need for a credible air deterrent.

Well-placed sources say President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and armed forces head Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto want a bigger defence budget, starting in 2008, and more spending on strike forces at a time when Singapore is awaiting delivery of 12 advanced F-15SG multi-role fighters and Malaysia is buying 18 Su-30s.

That same strategic thinking lies behind Indonesia's announced decision to buy two Kilo-class diesel submarines as part of a five-year, US$1 billion (S$1.5 billion) arms deal with Russia. Ideally, defence planners say six more submarines are needed to do the job of defending Indonesia's territorial waters.

President Yudhoyono concluded an agreement on military cooperation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow earlier this month. Although there was no specific contract, the new Sukhoi order means a full squadron of the jets is expected to enter service over the next two or three years.

The two countries are also working on an agreement which could ultimately see Russia launching telecommunication satellites from an aerospace centre on Papua's Biak island. Experts say Biak is ideal for space rocketry because of its position on the equator and its long, jumbo jet-ready runway.

Indonesia's interest in Russian equipment is a throwback to the Cold War days of founding president Sukarno, when the air force inventory was made up of Soviet and Chinese-built aircraft, including MiG 15, 17, 19 and 21 fighters as well as Ilyushin-28 and Tupulov-16 bombers. It was only in 1970 that the new Suharto regime turned to the Americans as its main supplier.

Jakarta first signalled its intention to look to Moscow again for some of its future military hardware in the mid-1990s, when it announced the planned purchase of 12 SU-30s, with an option for eight more. But the deal was postponed in January 1998, after the onset of the Asian financial crisis.

It was to be five more years before it was revived, with visiting then-president Megawati Sukarnoputri signing a counter-trade contract for two Su-27SKs, two Su-30MKs and two Mi-35P Hind helicopter gunships - the first time that Indonesia was adding specialised combat choppers to its inventory.

The Flankers were officially handed over in September 2003. But what was not revealed at the time was the fact that they were demonstration models, without the avionics to carry out interceptions and without the armaments to do anything about it even if they could.

It is still not clear whether that will be rectified under the new arms package, which is expected to include the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop-carrying helicopters, an additional five Mi35 gunships, 20 amphibious tanks and anti-aircraft missiles for the Indonesian navy.

Unlike their four predecessors, the six new Sukhois will be fitted to take weapons and electronic counter-measures. But Western military sources say that while the Russians are offering export credits to fund the deal, there have been no discussions about when the equipment will be added to the aircraft and the time frame.

For some defence analysts, the Indonesian leadership's fixation with protecting its sovereignty is puzzling, given the lack of any obvious external threat. They feel it should be balanced against concerns for better professional training and improved welfare for lower-ranking soldiers, 70 per cent of whom do not have adequate barracks.

It also ignores the fact that Indonesia probably has a greater need for surveillance aircraft and fast patrol craft to protect its vast maritime resources. Reason: it loses an estimated US$20 billion a year to foreign fishing trawlers and to illicit trade in everything from consumer goods to timber and coal.

Then there is the question of cost. The Sukhois may have the combat radius suited to Indonesian conditions, but they have two major drawbacks: they have a nagging vibration problem and their engines have to be replaced after 500 hours - compared with 5,000 hours for their American look-alike, the F-15.

That means a good economic structure is needed to support what is actually a larger fiscal responsibility than the purchase itself. Indonesia currently spends about US$3.5 billion on defence, up from previous levels but still well below Malaysia and Singapore as a percentage of gross domestic product.

The only countries in the region equipped with Sukhois are Malaysia and Vietnam, while Myanmar and Bangladesh both have the cheaper MiG-29. At one point, the operational availability of Malaysia's 12 Su-27s was barely 30 per cent, compared with 80 per cent for its two squadrons of Boeing FA/18 fighters.

Jakarta is now working on a deal under which India - a long-time user of Russian military equipment - will apparently help Indonesia maintain its new purchases. Officials say the planned deal will provide a boost for the local defence industry and create more opportunities for technology transfer.

The air force hopes to have most of its single squadron of US-built F-16 jet fighters back in service in about four years' time. Although the Falcons are employed in both air defence and ground attack roles, a lack of advanced weapons and navigation and targeting equipment limits them to daylight flying.

The first lot of 12 F-16s was delivered in late 1989, with talk then of buying 42 more to adequately cover Indonesia's 12 million sq km of airspace. But that fell through when the embargo was imposed in 1992, leaving the air force with just 10 of the planes after two crashed in the early years of deployment.

By the time the US administration under President George W. Bush lifted the embargo, late last year, the number of airworthy F-16s had been whittled down to just four - all of which were dispatched to East Kalimantan at the time of the Ambalat dispute.

The Indonesian air force plans to re-engine the F-16s at the rate of two a year, but that is about all it can afford to do. With its vintage fleet of F-5 fighters due to be phased out by 2009-2010, the only other warplanes in the Indonesian inventory are three squadrons of nimble British Aerospace Hawks that can be used for training or in a ground attack role.

The real priority, however, is to ensure that the air force gets 16 from an original fleet of 23 C-130 transport aircraft into the air by 2012. Only seven of the planes are operational, limiting the military's ability to respond to natural disasters and to move troops to trouble spots across the far-flung archipelago.

After 14 years in the doldrums, it has taken time for both the Indonesians and the Americans to get up to speed on the complicated Foreign Military Sales procedures that have to be dealt with before spare parts can be fed into the delivery pipeline.

In fact, the first shipment is only expected in January. 'It's been a steep learning curve for both sides,' says one defence official. 'There are no short cuts. The Indonesians have had to learn all over all over again how to go through the whole procurement process.'

Fitted with black market spare parts and carrying outdated manuals, many of the big four-engine cargo planes will have to go through what is known as 'deep maintenance' - a process that can last as long as a year and requires them to be virtually taken apart and rebuilt. The overall price tag for that may be a lot higher than the Indonesians realise.


Indonesia's air power

Fighter/ground attack: Su-27/30 ......................4 Hawk Mk53 ................8 F-16A/B .....................10 F-5E ..........................12 Hawk Mk109/209 ......32

Missiles: AIM-9P Sidewinder AGM-65G Maverick

Transport: CN-235 .........6 F27-400..........8 NC-212 ........10 C-130............23 (7 operational)

Trainers: SF-260 .......... 19 KAI-KT-1B .... 20

Helicopters: Bell 204B ...................2 Mi-35P ......................2 NBO-105CD .................. 4 Hughes 500 .................10 S-58T ......................10 EC-120B (Eurocopter)........12 NAS 330/332 Super Puma .....16

Joyo Indonesia News Service 

Department of Defense Agree to Military Unit Observer Tuesday, 19 December, 2006 | 12:06 WIB

TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta: The Department of Defense has approved the Indonesian Air Force's proposal of placing a liaison officer in the US to deal with matters dealing with weapons supply from the country. “During the 1980s and ‘90s, such officers did exist. However, after the embargo was imposed, we withdrew them. We'd like to employ them again,” said Director General of Defense Strategy Major General Dadi Susanto yesterday (12/18).

According to him, not only does the officer relate about the development of weaponry technology, but the officer also orders, negotiates and does trade. “The military attaché cannot perform those kinds of tasks,” he said.

Earlier, Director of Aeronatics at the Indonesian Air Force Air Commander Sunaryo H.W. had proposed that the government send two officers to two US states­Ohio and Utah­to become the liaison officers in meeting weapons supply.

Raden Rachmadi

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