Indonesia's air force to bolster presence in South China Sea

Indonesian armed forces commander, General Moeldoko in his residence in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. Moeldoko said he expected the Air Force to contribute more to operations.

"In the future, I hope the Indonesian Air Force will be able to boost our sovereignty, especially in the South China Sea," Moeldoko said during the inauguration of new Air Force Chief Vice Marshal Agus Supriyatna at the Halim Perdana Kusuma Military Base in Jakarta on Thursday.

The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea bordering China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines and Taiwan. Because of this geography, jurisdiction over the waters is complicated and sensitive. There has been a series of disputes over islands claimed by China and other countries.

Moeldoko said competition in the South China Sea was getting tougher and that the Air Force had the important task of securing Indonesia's air territory and trading lines in the area.

The military chief also said that boosting air sovereignty in the South China Sea would be very important in striking security partnerships with neighbouring countries as well as improving the national economy.

"It requires a strong air force, flexible diplomacy and strict regulation," Moeldoko told thousands of air force personnel attending the inauguration ceremony.

Last year, Moeldoko met with his Chinese and US counterparts to discuss disputes in the South China Sea.

Moeldoko said he did not expect that the two superpower nations would cause instability in the ASEAN region.

TNI officials have acknowledged that they are overwhelmed with the task of securing the busy trading lanes of the South China Sea, especially in areas beyond the surveillance reach of the Indonesian authorities.

Military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya said that a great many illegal flights currently passed with ease through the country's airspace over the South China Sea.

Many other crimes besides illegal flights occur in the area, including illegal fishing and drug and human trafficking.

Fuad said that Air Force assets could be deployed to prevent and crack down on such crimes.

"The Air Force will fill the gap in surveillance operations," Fuad explained, adding that the Air Force could join the Navy as part of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's maritime axis.

Moeldoko said that new jet fighters like the T-501 Golden Eagle, Sukhoi, Super Tucano and F-16 would also help with surveillance.

The Air Force is now working on its 2015 strategic plan to purchase new jet fighters to replace the 34-year-old F-5 jet fighters.

Moeldoko said that the government had three choices of new jets: the Sukhoi SU-35 from Russia, the F-16 from the US and the SAAB JAS Gripen from Sweden.

"We have given the three options to the Defence Ministry, but the Air Force prefers the Sukhoi-35," Moeldoko revealed.