The Indonesian Maritime Doctrine: Realising the Potential of the Ocean

The maritime doctrine continues the military modernisation agenda begun by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in 2005. SBY’s plan, the Minimum Essential Force (MEF), aimed to develop a green-water navy capable of patrolling the extent of the Indonesian archipelago by 2024. The Indonesian military (TNI) is currently hampered by outdated weapons systems that make it difficult to effectively protect the country’s territorial waters.

 One of the MEF’s major aims is to achieve total independence in the defence industry by 2024. Gaining knowledge and experience from international operators has been a key part of this aim. In 2011, Indonesia entered a technical assistance and export deal with the South Korean company Daewoo. As part of the joint venture the state ship-building company, PT PAL, will take part in the construction of two naval submarines in South Korea with a third to be built domestically. It is not improbable that, in the long term, Indonesia could become a significant maritime player in the Indo-Pacific but several obstacles could yet impede that lofty goal.

The defence budget is slated to increase to 1.5 per cent of GDP over the next five years. Although it has risen in recent years, from 0.5 per cent of GDP in 2001 to 0.9 per cent in 2013, Indonesian defence spending as a proportion of GDP still lags behind most other South-East Asian states. In dollar terms, however, it is second only to Singapore. While Indonesia could be on its way to becoming a formidable regional naval power, that will be a long-term goal, beyond Jokowi’s five-year term.

There have been suggestions that the maritime doctrine indicates a move away from the land-based strategy that Indonesia has followed since independence.[3]A focus on land-based force was fostered in the early years of independence as a means to maintain control over far-flung regions of the archipelago and to better ensure the unity of the country. While the state no longer faces the challenges from separatist groups in Aceh or East Timor, others remain active. The Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka: OPM) in Papua and West Papua, as well as an extremist network, with its hub in Central Sulawesi, while weakened, still pose a significant domestic threat. The simmering tension between the military and the police, which occasionally turns deadly, presents another threat to internal stability. In the long term, these threats are unlikely to prevent the formation or implementation of an Indonesian naval strategy, but they could disrupt its timely and efficient execution.

It is more likely that, as a result of the president’s maritime doctrine, Indonesia will be in a better position to patrol its maritime territory and defend key transport lines. Engaging in naval operations beyond its territorial boundaries will, however, remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.

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