Indonesia to modernize its Marine Corps

Indonesia to modernize its Marine Corps

Tom Abke

Indonesia is committed to modernizing the capabilities of its Marine Corps to combat “complex and uncertain threats” by acquiring new assets, adding a new command for the eastern part of the country and joining an integrated unit on its northern Natuna Islands, according to defense officials.

Indonesia’s comprehensive plan to outfit the corps includes modernizing its critical weapons systems, known as Alutsista, along with “training, assignment and organizational validation to enhance the role of marine presence in the field of operations,” Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Siwi Sukma Adji said during a ceremony in Jakarta to welcome the new Indonesian Marine Corps commander in late December 2018.

The new commander, Marine Maj. Gen. Suhartono, is a 34-year-old alumnus of the Indonesian Naval Academy who previously served as commander of the Presidential Security Force, the Indonesian Navy’s Information Service reported. He is expected to command a growing corps of 20,000 Marines, 3,000 of whom attended the handover ceremony. (Pictured: Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Siwi Sukma Adji shakes hands with Indonesian Marine Corps Commander Maj. Gen. Suhartono, right, after he assumed command from Maj. Gen. Bambang Suswantono, center, on December 27, 2018.)
Adm. Siwi named terrorism, radicalism, piracy, illegal immigrants, drug trafficking, environmental damage and natural disasters as threats facing Indonesia and its military, including its Marine Corps, which is expected to be a multifunctional force.

The new marine corps chief executive command for eastern Indonesia, known as Pasmar 3, was added in May 2018, Siwi said. Pasmar 3 will serve as a landing force of the Navy, thereby adding “capability, strength and operational preparedness” to the projection of land-to-sea forces and coastal defense operations on strategic islands, according to Indonesian Defence Ministry statements.

Siwi also said Marines will participate in the new Integrated Military Unit, inaugurated December 18, 2018, in the Natuna Islands, in northern Indonesia in the South China Sea. The unit was established as part of a planned constellation of integrated units on outlying islands to deter border threats.

Expansion of the Marine Corps will also be accompanied by new defense assets.

“The old weapons systems need to be renewed, modernized and replaced with new ones,” Rear Adm. Agus Setiadji, head of defense facilities at Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense told FORUM. Changing force needs, he added, also require “increasing the number of amphibious tanks, other combat vehicles as well as meeting individual and team weapons requirements.”

The military pays close attention to “life cycle cost” in the modernization process and that priority is given to assets that can be manufactured domestically, Setiadji explained.

If purchases are required to be made from abroad, he said, they must be done using his ministry’s transfer of technology scheme, thereby enabling Indonesia to legally incorporate defense technology of foreign origin into its domestic supply chains.

“Some defense equipment that has been produced in the country include UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], medium tanks, and long barrel guns and pistols,” he said.

Forthcoming naval procurements for Indonesia’s Marines include submarines, landing ship tanks, frigates, offshore patrol vessels, radar, amphibious tanks, cannons, and individual and team weapons.

“In the future,” Setiadji said, “the national defense industry will be able to supply our military’s needs and at the same time be a source of foreign exchange by selling defense products to foreign countries. Some Indonesian products are in demand by friendly countries.”

The long-term effects of modernization, he said, include better “balance of strength” and an enhanced ability of Jakarta to carry out “defense diplomacy” in the region in order to maintain regional stability.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.