Indonesia, U.K. trying to forge defense industry partnerships

Indonesia, U.K. trying to forge defense industry partnerships

Tom Abke

Indonesia and the United Kingdom are working to foster cooperation between their countries’ defense industries by bringing leading manufacturers together.

These efforts were on display in March 2018 when a delegation of 13 leading defense manufacturers from the U.K. visited their Indonesian counterparts in Jakarta and took part in a joint seminar.

“Britain is expected to participate in realizing mutually beneficial cooperation with Indonesia in the field of defense industry in order to further strengthen the good relations between the two countries that have lasted a long time,” said Hadiyan Sumintaatmadja, secretary-general of Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense, according to a ministry statement.

Despite years of warm relations, a strong defense trade between the countries has yet to materialize. With Indonesia’s military undergoing a rapid modernization, London perceives an opening not to be missed.

“Indonesia is an important defense and security market for the U.K., and U.K. companies are looking to provide world-leading solutions as Indonesia modernizes its Armed Forces,” said Christian Ayres, first secretary for defense and security at the British Embassy in Jakarta.

Opportunities for cooperation between Indonesian and British companies include the supply of military equipment, communications systems, spare parts, support services, as well as monitoring and protection of sea-borne traffic for national security and fisheries enforcement, cyber security and counterterrorism, according to the U.K.’s Department for International Trade. British firms in the delegation included such defense giants as British Aerospace Engineering Systems (BAES) as well as smaller ones such as Scottish naval supplier MacTaggart Scott.

“Working with Britain is very important since Indonesia practices an independent foreign policy,” said Dino R. Kusnadi of Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It will also prevent us from relying on just one or two countries for our defense imports, as we have so far with an inclination toward the U.S. and Russia.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2016 signed five memoranda of understanding with then-U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to strengthen cooperation between their countries.

“But so far as I know, most of the defense cooperation between Indonesia and Britain is still in the capacity-building phase,” Kusnadi said.

Key to any defense deals will be the transfer of technology, he added, meaning that any technology introduced to Indonesia by U.K. manufacturers would need, at least in part, to be acquired by Indonesia for further development and commercialization.

Rachmad Lubis of Jakarta’s Defence Industry Policy Committee, known as KKIP, affirmed the rarity of British defense products in Indonesia. A trio of corvette warships, pictured, supplied by BAES to the Indonesian Navy in 2012 and a deal with Thales UK for security defense equipment were the only major defense transactions between the countries Lubis could recall.

U.K. officials hope this will change. Ayres emphasized that British defense companies are enthusiastic to enter joint ventures and industrial partnerships with the Indonesian Armed Forces. “It was clear during the mission that the Indonesian government and both [Indonesian and British] industries were keen to work together to identify opportunities,” he said.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.