When the Indonesian Navy posted Kilo-class submarine No. 412 on its 2013 official calender, the public was surprised, and cheered that the country’s submarine fleet now totaled 12, an extrapolation from the fact that its first and second submarines are coded as No. 401 and 402 respectively.
While there is no confirmation from the military on the exact number of submarines, Bantarto Bandoro, a senior lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, said the conjecture was correct.
“However, there are probably only five that are operational,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.
Bantarto said such a number was seen as inadequate for guarding Indonesia’s vast sea area and defending it from an attack when compared to neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Bantarto said recent developments in Northeast Asia, where China is in dispute with Japan and South Korea due to its claim over the entire South China Sea, could make the region unstable.
“That’s why it’s understandable that we strengthen our defense capacity, and one way of doing that is buying more submarines,” he said.
Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said previously that Indonesia was faced with two options for strengthening its naval fleet, either by procuring used submarines from Russia, or buying new ones from South Korea.
However, Gen. Moeldoko, the chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI), and Navy chief of staff Adm. Marsetio hinted on Sunday that the country could buy submarines from both countries so as to have at least 12 units, the minimum number seen as adequate to deter outside attacks.
“Currently we are still studying and calculating the plan to strengthen our defense capacity. It would be great if we could acquire the Kilo-class submarines, which have a long firing range for guided missiles,” Moeldoko said on Sunday.
The “Kiloklav” Kilo-class submarine can hit a target 400 kilometers away from below the ocean’s surface.
Earlier, Marsetio said a Navy technical team would be sent to Russia in January to study an offer from that country to sell submarines to Indonesia.
“If Indonesia were to buy the Russian submarines, the country would be the first in Asia to have Kilo-class submarines,” he said, citing that this was an important and essential move for this country, where seas make up two thirds of its territory.
Defense Minister Purnomo said recently that negotiations were underway with Russian government concerning the submarine purchase.
“We would prefer ones equipped with Club S guided missiles that could hit a target 400 km away,” Purnomo said.
Club S guided missiles are launched from under the water to hit floating targets, he said. “This type of war equipment is a killer missile.”
He said the submarines Indonesia wants to buy must be suitable for the country’s eastern regions, where the ocean is deep.
He said the country also plans to build up to 40 guided missile speedboats measuring 40-60 meters in length, between now and 2024, to meet the navy’s needs in the western part of the country.
Indonesia will also acquire three submarines from South Korea, Marsetio said.
According to Bantarto, buying new South Korean submarines with higher price tags will still be cheaper for the navy’s operations.
“[This way], we don’t have to overhaul our infrastructure, including our submarine dock, which would be costly,” he said.
The Defense Ministry said last year that Indonesia was planning to more than double its submarine fleet by 2020.
Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Hartind Asrin said the submarines would be a vital component in the defense of Indonesia’s maritime borders.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed earlier this year that the Indonesia’s military will continue to replace outdated equipment and add new hardware to adequately defend the nation.
Yudhoyono slashed defense purchases during his first term to free up money for economic and social policies, but later increased defense spending in the wake of domestic criticism and the repeal of the US defense assistance ban.
Defense comprised the largest share of government spending at Rp 83 trillion ($7.65 billion) this year, up from Rp 77.7 trillion in 2012.
Yudhoyono said in August that he had requested more money for the military’s budget “to improve the readiness and reliability of the armed forces in safeguarding territorial sovereignty, in executing defensive tasks of the state during peacetime, and in participating in maintaining world peace.”
Purnomo said the purchase of the submarines and other defense equipment sends a message that the president has taken a progressive step toward modernization of the Indonesia defense system so that “we can keep up with Asean members.”