Subject: The Bulletin: Indonesia bulks up naval defence

The Bulletin

Indonesia bulks up naval defence

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

As Indonesia re-arms, details are emerging of a dangerous encounter over East Timor. By Paul Daley.

Indonesia has foreshadowed plans to buy up to 10 of the world's best conventional submarines from Russia almost eight years to the day after Australian military chiefs threatened to destroy two of Jakarta's subs off East Timor.

Defence academics and experts claim Australia has no cause to be concerned about Indonesia's planned acquisition of the Kilo-class submarines, among the most technically advanced non-nuclear ships in commission.

But intelligence sources maintain that on September 20, 1999, at the height of the Australian-led InterFET operation to liberate and secure East Timor, the Australian military effectively threatened to sink two of Indonesia's submarines. They believe that in coming years tensions between the two countries could easily escalate and Canberra should be wary of Jakarta's plans to bolster its defence force with a range of Russian hardware, also including tanks and helicopters.

"The InterFET incident serves to remind us that Indonesia has, indeed, already aggressively deployed submarines against Australian military assets and personnel and will do again if it believes that circumstances warrant it," an Australian military source told The Bulletin.

So what exactly happened in 1999? On September 19, 5000 Australian and New Zealand troops were sailing towards East Timor aboard a variety of vessels to begin their United Nations-sanctioned operations in the newly autonomous East Timor.

Sources say that Indonesia's two German-built T-209 submarines were "deployed into the theatre of operations" where they "shadowed the InterFET fleet and were operating with greater technical flair than had been anticipated".

"The submarines were hunted and, when detected, their locations were signalled to the Indonesians - an unmistakable hint that they could and would be destroyed if the threat were to escalate," a military source said. "With the shadow of power cast across the negotiating table, the Indonesian commanders immediately retired their submarines."

As the eighth anniversary of the InterFET operation nears, more details are emerging about the military tension between Australia and Indonesia at the time, including that teams of Indonesian special forces used the cover of election monitors to try to hunt and kill Australian special forces operating covertly inside East Timor. Meanwhile, Australian F-111s were ready to bomb military targets in Jakarta.

The Indonesian government finalised its plans to buy the hardware from Moscow when Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped in Jakarta en route to APEC last week.

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