A spirit of independence in our national defense industry

Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak Post-graduate Lecturer in the Ahmad Dahlan Institute of Technology and Business Jakarta

IO – We absolutely need a strong defense, in order to maintain the sovereignty, unity, and safety of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia from all threats, whether they come from inside or outside the country. Therefore, the strengthening of our weaponry system is non-negotiable. Strong weaponry systems will discourage enemies who want to disturb us, providing us with deterrence. Even more than that: the mastery of a weaponry system is a measurement of a nation’s advancement, whether in terms of the economy or of HR. After all, developing a weaponry system requires both high costs and high technology. 

Nevertheless, as Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto frequently states, “Defense is not a cost, but an investment.” Both Emile Benoit’s classic study and De Grasse’s newer research (quoted in Karim, 2014) show that a large defense budget can encourage economic growth. In the end, a country’s weaponry system is part of its national pride. This is a great dream shared by all levels of Indonesia’s citizenry. 

We must painfully admit that in this sector, we are behind many, even among Southeast Asia countries. For example, Asia Power Index 2018 by Lowy Institute places Indonesia’s military prowess at number 13 among ASEAN countries, lower than Vietnam (11th) and Singapore (10th). According to Global Firepower 2019, Indonesia’s position has also lowered one point from that of the previous year: We have gone down to 16th rank. The latest data elsewhere shows that Indonesia’s military ranking has not changed. 

Spirit of Independence 

Our predecessors actually had a spirit of possessing and mastering weaponry systems. The History of the Indonesian National Naval Force Weaponry System 1945-1965 (2010), for example, notes that RI’s first warship, the Kapten Pahlawan Laut, was a merchant ship built by enterprising businessman and inventor H. Mochammad Tohir and donated to the newborn State by his wife, Hj. Sitti Hawa. 

As for our aerial weaponry system, the History of the Indonesian National Air Force Weaponry System 1946-1950 (2012), Indonesia’s first military plane was a medium-sized C-47 Skytrain transport plane produced by Douglas Aircraft of the US, originally owned by veteran US naval pilot Robert Earl Freberg. The plane was registered as RI-002. However, RI-001 airplane did not exist at first. This is because the RI-001 is meant for presidential air travel, and negotiations for its purchase were pending. Finally, the citizens of Aceh donated the RI-001 plane, causing it to be more familiar in history as the Seulawah plane. 

As time goes by, we cannot afford to rely on leasing and buying. In fact, our Republic successfully created its own glider plane in its infancy in 1946, the NWG-1 Zogling Glider created by air officers Nurtanio and Wiweko Soepono. That was the first milestone in our aeronautical technology. It is obvious that the spirit for possessing tough weaponry system is something all of our sons and daughters have, whether they are in the military or not. 

The Impact of Dependence 

During the Old Order, Indonesia had the strongest defense in Asia. Our armies had the most advanced weaponry at the time. Our weaponry system includes the cruiser RI Irian, a Whisky-class submarine, a Komar-class rapid missile battleship, a remote Ilyushin IL-28 bomber plane and PT-76 Amphibious Tank (Kitbiantoro and Rudianto, 2010). These weapons originated from the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations. Our officers also had the chance to get intensive training and education on these weapons. Their sophistication scared the Netherlands, which was supported by the Western Bloc in its confrontation with Indonesia relating to the struggle to obtain West Irian at the time. It was enough to get the Land of the Bird of Paradise back into the arms of our Motherland. 

However, internal political volatility changed our Government’s foreign politics at the time. The efforts to modernize our weaponry system stopped, as the Soviet Union ended their assistance. Indonesia then changed direction from East to West. Other than utilizing the weaponry systems of the United States and its allies, the New Order government made efforts to strengthen our own defense industry. It established the Defense and Security Industry Review Team (Tim Pengkajian Industri Pertahanan dan Keamanan – “TPIH”) in 1980, later becoming the Strategic Industry Review and Development Team (Tim Pengkajian dan Pengembangan Industri Strategis – “TPPIS”). 

B. J. Habibie is inseparable from the very existence or our strategic industry. It is a technology-based industry that generates intermediate or capital goods that downstream industry uses to produce goods and services (Kuffal, 2011). Our strategic State-owned Enterprises include PT Pindad, PT PAL, and PT Dirgantara Indonesia. 

Dirgantara was formerly known the Nusantara Aircraft Industry (Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara – “IPTN”) and initially known Lembaga Industri Penerbangan Nurtanio or Nurtanio Aviation Industry Institute (in honor of the inventor of the first Indonesian glider plane). It has cooperated with Spain’s CASA to produce the medium-range twin-engine CN-235 civil transport aircraft and the N-250 regional turboprop aircraft commuter. 

After the monetary crisis, IMF required that subsidies for IPTN, which was planning to produce the N-2130 airplane at the time, be withdrawn, when Indonesia asked for aid. PT Dua Satu Tiga Puluh, established to amass capital, was disbanded. The plane originally designed by national effort and produced nationally did not get built. According to Kuffal, this was the moment that broke down Indonesia’s strategic industry. To add insult to injury, the US and its allies boycotted Indonesia, because of alleged human right violations. From 1995 to 2005, the West stopped all sales of weaponry systems and spare parts. Consequently, many of our planes had to be grounded and nearly half of our weaponry systems were unusable. 

Solidifying Independence 

This bitter pill raised Indonesia’s desire to strengthen its own defense industry and achieve independence. The validation of Law Number 16 of 2012 concerning the Defense Industry is proof of this commitment. This Law obliges the Army, the Police, and all of the Government Ministries and Agencies to rely on domestic products. Importing defense and security equipment is only allowed if our domestic defense industry does not produce the relevant product; the national defense industry participates in production, with a minimum of 85% local content and/or offset, mandatory technology transfer, and the seller country guaranteeing that there will be neither an embargo nor political conditions attached. 

In the weaponry system business, referring to Heidenkamp et al. (2013), the Government is the customer, sponsor, and regulator all rolled into one. This is more relevant to Indonesia’s context, as our Government dominates the industry. The entire capital ownership of the primary defense equipment industry belongs to the State. Therefore, it completely depends on the Government how much commitment is given to improve our defense industry in accordance with the Law. One proof of this seriousness is the amount of defense budget allocated. Our defense budget continues to increase, year after year, with the current annual amount being IDR 129 trillion. This amount is far from being ideal, especially since only 25.4% of it is available for capital expenditures (weaponry system).