Defense Minister bolsters Bakamla’s capability to protect Indonesia’s sovereignty in Natuna

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Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. (Photo: DISPEN AL)

IO – To maintain security and sovereignty in the Natuna Sea, Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) vessels are now armed with sophisticated weaponry. Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has upgraded the capability of Bakamla vessels to enforce maritime security in Natuna. 

Since February 1, 2021, the China coast guard fleet has been officially allowed to use weapons to repel or capture foreign ships sailing through disputed waters. The Coast Guard Law, which was passed on January 22, 2021 and takes effect from February 1, 2021, triggered protests from neighboring countries that have an ongoing maritime sovereignty dispute with China; these include Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. 

On many occasions, Bakamla held a face off with China coast guard vessels in the exclusive economic zone near the Natuna islands, where several incidents have occurred between Indonesia coast guard and China marine surveillance and China coast guard vessels. For the sake of perspective, the China coast guard vessels are equipped with heavy weaponry such as a 75-mm caliber cannon. It would thus potentially be very dangerous if Bakamla were to become involved in a direct armed confrontation with China coast guard ships. 

Bakamla, which operates the coast guard vessels, have been in consultation with the Foreign Ministry. “We have formally coordinated with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to study this matter,” said Bakamla chief Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia during a hearing session with the House’s Committee I on Tuesday (2/2/2021). 

In anticipation, Bakamla has received support with the issuance of arms purchase permits since 2020. In August 2020, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto even allowed Bakamla to use large caliber weapons to defend Indonesia’s territorial water, with greater focus given to the Natuna sea. This area is close to the South China Sea, which has recently seen an escalation of tension between China and the United States. 

Aan said he was grateful for the support that Bakamla received in arming itself. “Bakamla was allowed to purchase new weaponry in August last year, so we are grateful that we are now more properly equipped,” he said. 

Aan said the current situation in the South China Sea is very dynamic, as China’s growing assertiveness has elicited vigorous responses from major countries, such as the US. It is feared that tensions in the region, which are already high, will continue to escalate. “There is a real risk of escalation and conflict spillover,” he cautioned. 

Aan admitted that weapons purchased by the Defense Ministry for Bakamla were still inferior to the 75-mm caliber cannon used by the China coast guard. “Chinese and Vietnamese coast guard vessels have large-caliber cannons, 75 mm, 57mm but I can’t even buy a weapon. So yesterday I requested a meeting with the Defense Minister and we looked at the laws and regulations, thank God it is actually permissible,” said Aan during a press conference on Bakamla’s achievements in 2020 at the agency’s headquarters in Central Jakarta, December 30, 2020. 

Before, Bakamla officers were only armed with rubber bullets. Aan said that this year they were allowed to use 30-mm caliber weapons and individual weapons. “For now, the weapons allowed are only the 30-mm and 12.7- mm ones as well individual weapons,” he said. However, he emphasized that officers only use these weapons for self-defense when on patrol duty at sea. “Remember, the weapons are not used to deliver lethal force, but only for self-defense, defensive purpose. That’s why we don’t need large-caliber weapon like the ones used by the Navy, but at least we are able to defend ourselves if necessary. We have received the official permit in August 2020,” he added. 

The signing of the purchase contract for 12.7-mm weapons and ammunition with state-owned arms maker Pindad was held at the Bakamla headquarters in Central Jakarta on September 9, 2020. “They are going to be fitted to virtually all of our ships, the 48-meter and 80-meter and 110-meter one,” said Aan. 

According to Aan, the 12.7-mm submachine gun is a relatively light weapon, mainly used for self-defense. Later, one patrol vessel will be equipped with two submachine guns. Bakamla has a number of patrol vessels, among them being the 110-meter headquarters ship as well as 80-meter, 48-meter, and 15-meter patrol vessels. In addition, Bakamla also has a 12-meter Rigid Inflatable Boat. (Des)