Maritime Defense System Outlook Under new TNI chief

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Siswanto Rusdi
Siswanto Rusdi, Director The National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), an Independent Maritime in Jakarta, Indonesia

IO – General Andika Perkasa has been installed by President Joko Widodo as the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) commander replacing Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, who retired in November. Though not surprising, the appointment of the former Army chief of staff was still rippling the water, since according to the customary succession practice adopted since Reformasi it should have Navy chief of staff Admiral Yudo Margono’s turn to be TNI commander.

Certain military observers are therefore of the opinion that the appointment of Andika was an indication of a political victory rather one based on a merit system within the country’s uniformed institutions. Indeed, months before his nomination to the parliament by President Joko Widodo, a series of political maneuvers had been launched by so-called “civil society organizations” or NGOs demanding the President immediately appoint General Andika as TNI commander. This included lobbying by his flatherin-law, retired Army Lieutenant General AM Hendropriyono.

For the maritime sector, the appointment of an Army top brass as TNI commander will only strengthen the prevailing defense system, one that gives a big push to the Army, rather than to the Navy or Air Force. The system is called Pertahanan Pulau-Pulau Besar (Big Island Strategy) and is formally stipulated through Presidential Regulation No. 8/2021 on General Policies of State Defense. The Indonesia Navy has been struggling so long to introduce a maritime-centered one and it would have gained more momentum had Admiral Yudo been at the helm of TNI.

As the new TNI commander, Gen. Andika is in charge of the military modernization programs that should be implemented during his term, which unfortunately lasts only one year plus, as he will reach a compulsory retirement age of 58 for military officers next year. Note that this can be extended up to 60 at the discretion of the President. Andika was hailed by many observers as a bright, innovative officer, a graduate from overseas military training centers and universities.

According to an Andika presentation before the House Committee I, in charge of defense and foreign affairs, during his fit and proper test after being nominated by the President as the sole candidate, he promised to carry on what had been planned by his predecessor. There are, however, several key areas of concern for Andika such as, among others, reinforcing land, sea and air border patrols and cybersecurity.

What General Andika endeavored to offer before the Parliament was a basically standard approach within an existing context, while in fact many claimed they represented quite a breakthrough. Those who adhered to another strategic point of view were nevertheless of the opinion that he should be planning to introduce a more appropriate maritime defense system, as an urgent need for this has been aired for a long time, both by the Indonesia Navy itself and pro maritime activists; unfortunately it has gotten no traction until now. There was indeed a fervent hope that the idea could be pushed forward had the chosen TNI chief been Admiral Yudo.

The structure and details of a maritime defense system are still unclear despite President Joko Widodo’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision, which emphasizes the increasingly important role of the seas in Indonesia’s geopolitical and geoeconomics strategy. That is why the appointment of a TNI commander with a strong maritime background would have been strongly appreciated, although the officer selected is not expected to pivot immediately in view of structural and cultural barriers within TNI, as mentioned earlier. He could at least trigger broader discussions and direct them in a meaningful way to work toward the intended objective.

Now, what indeed does a maritime defense system look like? There is no uniform answer to this question, since the circulation of the concept is limited to within Indonesia Navy circles, let alone TNI headquarters. My understanding is that ongoing discussions indicate a system based on the premise that the branch should be treated as a core component in defense architecture, and to do so it must be transferred to a “blue-water navy”.

Currently, the Indonesian Navy (TNI AL) is projected as a “brown water force” whose task is heavily concentrated on coastal defense, a position that is totally relevant with a Big Islands Strategy. If a maritime defense system can be adopted, the posture of TNI AL will be significantly modified. First, its perimeter would dramatically expand, with the possibility of reaching beyond our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Second, warships and dedicated aircraft, among others would consequently be required, and their number will be considerably higher than existing armaments.

Just by comparison, according to available data, the total roster of personnel of TNI AL currently numbers 70,797, considerably smaller than that of the Indonesian Army (TNI AD) which reaches 347,529. Still, it is much larger than that of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI AU), at just 37,830 personnel. This composition is a refection of Indonesia’s defense architecture, where land forces are seen as more important than those of the seas or the air.

An ideal maritime defense system should actually take center stage in the President Joko Widodo administration, for since 2019 up to the present a maritime defense is one of five pillars of GMF. It seems that the prospect of a maritime defense system has a long way to go. Further, the appointment of Gen. Andika as TNI Commander is honestly not expected to advance it much.