Over Coffee #11: Domestic reactions of Indonesia’s shopping spree

This week I want to focus on domestic reactions of Indonesia’s fighter jet shopping spree. This will then be followed by some interesting updates this week presented in a rapid-fire style. But don’t worry, next week, the usual weekly update will resume.

Speaking of coffee, I’ve finally found the time to visit one of my top 10 cafes in Jakarta, Blacklisted. Though it’s a bit on the pricey side — and I begrudgingly had to settle for the place since I found out Angel-in-us at Lotte was permanently shuttered — their flat whites are top-notch and they have a decent selection of food. I paired it with a chocolate-orange cake (it’s a cheat day!) and had a nice morning snack. What keeps me going back to the place, despite it’s rather premium price tag, is that it isn’t too crowded, and there’s this nook with a chair that I provides maximum comfort for reading and journaling.

The Indonesian shopping spree: domestic reactions

After the news of Indonesia’s fighter jet shopping spree, domestic reactions have been pouring in. Amidst the optimistic applause — who wouldn’t be ecstatic about finally getting Gen 4.5 fighter jets? — there were some notable sceptical reactions. The deal — 42 Rafales, its supporting equipment, along with other deals which potentially include two Scorpene submarines — was priced at USD 8.1 billion. For context, the Indonesian defence budget in 2022 is around USD 9.3 billion.

Rian Ernest, a spokesperson for Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI), voiced his party’s concerns of the expensive arms purchase amidst an ongoing pandemic and economic recession. It was not time, he said, to be keeping up with the Joneses while people are still suffering. Ernest also urged the government to be more transparent of ongoing and upcoming defense acquisition programs.

Transparency and accountability were also themes raised by Tempo and Indonesian lawmakers. An editorial on 14 February 2022 warned the purchase as likely becoming yet another “white elephant” project of the Jokowi administration, akin to the ridiculously-expensive yet exclusionary new capital city. These projects, the editorial claims, are not “realistic”, yet continue to be pushed only to serve “delusions of grandeur”.

The editorial also criticised the purchase as “lacking urgency” due to the absence of ongoing or impending threats of armed conflict. This observation, however, only reflects a lack of awareness of the utility of fighter jets as a component of general deterrence, which Indonesian air power lacks. In addition, the editorial seems to be unaware of the numerous flashpoints in the Natuna Sea, which Indonesia would be inadequately-equipped to deal with.

Indonesian lawmakers, especially of Commission I of the House of Representatives, were welcoming of the effort made to rejuvenate Indonesia’s ageing aircraft. However, they raised concerns of the Ministry of Defense’s bookkeeping and accountability. The MOD does not really have a stellar reputation in handling these big acquisition projects, which include, among others, recently-uncovered allegations of corruption in a defense satellite acquisition project and the continued delays of the KFX-IFX advanced fighter jet project.

Other forms of criticism focus on the “commonality” aspect of the fighters. Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, a defense expert, and former Air Force Chief of Staff Chappy Hakim raised operational concerns of the new fighters. Indonesia would be the first and biggest operator of Rafales in Southeast Asia. However, as Indonesia has usually operated fighter aircraft from Russia (the Sukhoi variants), the United States (F-16s) , and the UK (Hawk 200s), operating the Rafales would entail a ‘transition’ period for pilots. This is on top of the additional costs in setting up the aircraft’s operating systems, which Indonesia does not have.

All in all, the domestic reactions, especially from defense analysts and policymakers, have mostly been guarded optimism. There is a significant amount of doubt of the MOD’s ability to oversee this deal, along with scepticism of the potentially large bill replete with “hidden” costs that Indonesia would shoulder if they actually intend to effectively utilise the Rafales.

Other things that happened

  • Myanmar a no-show at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers retreat in Siam Reap. The junta refused to send a non-political representative, opting to cancel its participation in the meeting altogether. Adelina Kamal considers the three possible approaches ASEAN could use to solve Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis, which continues to worsen.
  • Hun Sen gives up trying to solve the Myanmar crisis, admitting that “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, so just let it be.”
  • The Biden administration released their Indo-Pacific strategy, which consists of around 15 pages. Some key points of the strategy include: deepening commitments with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and “Euro-Atlantic” (yes, that is real), ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, promoting free trade, increasing security commitments (AUKUS is featured prominently), and improving regional resilience.
  • The annual State of Southeast Asia report for 2022 has been released, and one of the notable findings is that many ASEAN citizens perceive the organisation as being slow and ineffective.

That’s all for this week! Come by again next week for the usual stuff on the Indo-Pacific.

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