Indonesia’s opportunistic approach to arms procurement
Author: Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, ANU
The first-ever bilateral defense agreement between Indonesia and Japan was signed on March 30, 2021, paving the way for Japanese arms exports to Indonesia, including the potential sale of up to eight Mogami– class frigates. The agreement concentrates at maritime safety with “shared serious concerns about the continued and intensified unilateral attempts to change the status quo” in the East and South China Seas.
Indonesia has raised concerns over maritime disputes in the South China Sea, which suggests the deal is part of an Indonesian response to aggressive Chinese tactics. Indonesia has implicitly recognized that “countering China” was the basis of its other defense agreements concluded over the past five years, including with India and Australia. The agreement with Japan indicates yet another Indonesian effort to build sea defenses against China. Much like previous agreements, however, concerns about China might not be the only driving force.
The deal is a game-changer for Japan as it portends the first arms sale of this magnitude after relaxing its constitutional interpretation regarding arms exports in 2014. The deal is not the first instance of arms sales. Japanese weapons to Indonesia. In 1960, Japan transferred a landing tank and submarine tender to the Indonesian Navy which remain in active service.
For Indonesia, the deal means its pragmatic and even opportunistic arms purchase. The agreement considering the transfer of “defense equipment and technologies to implement projects… contributing to international peace and security; joint research; development and production projects; or to strengthen cooperation in security and defense ”. The deal is similar to what Indonesia’s traditional arms suppliers are already offering. Potential Japanese arms exports are unlikely to significantly change Indonesia’s eclectic approach to arms procurement.
The deal is best seen against the backdrop of Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto’s recent lead record pitting potential arms suppliers against each other in search of the best deal. Prabowo’s tactics are not novel in Indonesia’s purchasing history, as evidenced by Indonesia’s purchase of new fighter jets.
Prabowo seems to vacillate between Russia, France, Austria and the United States as the potential provider for new fighter jets. Still, there is a certain logic behind this approach. Prabowo may have expected his overtures to Russia to spark a sympathetic invitation from the United States and France to offer a better deal. Meanwhile, its relations with the United States and other Western partners could prompt Russia to bid for a contract on other weapons systems.
With its plan to spend more than $ 125 billion on arms purchases by 2044, Prabowo could expect the defense deal with Japan to encourage Indonesia’s other arms suppliers to come up with more deals. competitive, including technology transfer arms industry. Currently, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense is selecting the successor of the two Martadinata-class frigates, the most sophisticated addition to the Indonesian fleet. Prabowo could also use the defense deal to pressure the Dutch for better terms if they want to see the purchase of more Martadinata-class frigates.
The defense deal with Japan could even prompt Prabowo to push South Korea to offer better terms for the Additional acquisition of the Type-209 Nagapasa-class submarines. The recent sinking of Indonesia Nanggala-402 submarine – refurbished in South Korea in 2012 – placed Indonesian naval supply and South Korea’s technology transfer under meticulous examination. Without the submarines, perhaps better terms could be negotiated with South Korea for the sale of the KF-X / IF-X 4.5 generation fighter jets.
June 10, 2021, Indonesia sign a purchase contract of six Bergamini-class and two ex-Maestrale-Italian class frigates. In addition to Italian Bergamini, Indonesia was ogle Danish “Iver Huitfeld” and British “Arrowhead 140” design from Babcock International.
This approach is guided by the belief that Indonesia can opportunistically turn one supplier country against another whenever the deal seems softer. Sales of Mogami-The class frigates will confirm Japan’s addition to Indonesia’s current list of arms suppliers.
Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto is an Indonesian presidential doctoral student at the Center for Strategic and Defense Studies, Australian National University.