Indonesian military showcases its strength

Indonesian military showcases its strength
Governors from 29 Indonesian provinces at a ceremony in Surabaya on 6 October 2014 where they were presented with berets by the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) commander, General Moeldoko, to honour them as partners of the TNI.

The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) is putting on its largest anniversary celebration ever in a display of its strength and as a farewell parade to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who steps down in two weeks.

Armed forces commander General Moeldoko told reporters that today's display would showcase how the government was meeting its obligations and highlightTNI's capabilities to the outside world.

At a time when the President is under attack from various quarters over his political legacy, few question the achievements of the former four-star general in presiding over the modernisation and reform of the military.

On his watch, the armed forces have eased out - and largely stayed out - of the political arena, and their ongoing reforms have seen their approval ratings rise from 25 per cent in 1999 to 72 per cent this year, according to a survey by the country's largest newspaper, Kompas.

The TNI's budget has also grown significantly, with the defence budget for next year at 95 trillion rupiah (S$10.5 billion), a far cry from the 22 trillion rupiah allocated in 2005.

While the rise is aimed at achieving "minimum essential force" status by 2024, the bare minimum needed to safeguard borders and maintain a professional, capable military, it comes amid growing concern over China flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea.

Yesterday, Gen Moeldoko issued a reminder to be constantly on guard as he presented berets to 29 provincial governors - there are 34 provinces - attending today's event to honour them as partners of the TNI, and urged them to help strengthen the country's defences.

"Every nation that wants to stay intact has to be prepared for war," he said. He later told reporters he was watching the situation in the South China Sea closely.

The TNI recently announced it was beefing up its defences in the area and, last month, Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro announced the government would base an F16 squadron in Pekanbaru, Riau province, and an Apache helicopter squadron in the Riau Islands - the province closest to Singapore - to safeguard gas exploration in the East Natuna Field.

Indonesian officials stress they have no boundary dispute with China, although there has been concern that Indonesia's exclusive economic zone extending from the Natunas overlaps with waters under the demarcation line used by China for its claims in the South China Sea. Some 70,000 people live in the Natuna archipelago, located between the Malay Peninsula and Borneo.

Some of the TNI's high-profile buys in recent years, including Leopard main battle tanks from Germany, Apache Longbow helicopters from the United States and T-50 Golden Eagle fighters from South Korea, will be in the two-hour display today.

Also scheduled to join in the sail-past today is the British-made frigate KRI Usman Harun, whose naming after two marines behind the MacDonald House bombing in Singapore during Konfrontasi in 1965 - declared heroes by Indonesia after their 1968 execution - sparked controversy and strained bilateral ties earlier this year.

Singapore said it would not allow the vessel to visit nor take part in joint exercises with it.

Indonesia said it would not rename the ship, but would place it in its eastern armada to patrol its eastern waters.

This article was first published on October 7, 2014.
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