Though Jakarta continues to make some inroads in boosting its capabilities and defense industry, familiar challenges remain.
On Tuesday, Indonesia officially launched the fourth in a series of locally-built fast attack crafts. Though this scheduled event did mark another advance for Jakarta in its quest to build up its capabilities, it also reinforced the significant gaps that remain and how far it has left to go.
As I have noted before, Indonesia has long been engaged in an effort to strengthen the country’s maritime capabilities in recognition of the sobering reality that it needs more vessels and aircraft to fully monitor what is the world’s second longest coastline. Jakarta also wants to boost the country’s nascent but growing domestic defense industry as well as it builds up its capabilities, which only compounds that challenge (See: “An Indonesian Defense Revolution Under Jokowi?”).
Indonesia’s state-owned shipbuilder PT PAL has been part of that effort, despite the manifold challenges that it continues to face along the way. In 2018, PT PAL’s work for the Indonesian military, in addition to exports, was expected to include the construction for the Indonesian Navy of a submarine, landing platform docks, and four additional KCR-60 guided missile fast attack craft following the three that it had already produced, in addition to other routine repair and maintenance requests (See: “What’s Next for Indonesia’s Shipbuilding Ambitions in 2018?”).
On February 27, PT PAL launched the fourth KCR-60M vessel on order for the Indonesian Navy. The vessel, which will be known as the KRI Kerambit with pennant number 627 after commissioning, was unveiled at PT PAL’s facilities in Surabaya, around a year after the steel for the platform was cut.
The vessel no doubt marks an advance for Indonesia’s military as well as PT PAL. As Indonesia’s navy chief Ade Supandi rightly noted, these fast attack craft are a boost for the country’s capabilities because their speed and lethality make them useful across a range of functions, including for archipelagic warfare.
These advances also have knock on effects for PT PAL’s overseas endeavors as well. PT PAL’s director Budiman Saleh has repeatedly stressed that user satisfaction domestically can help boost confidence for the firm’s products overseas as well as it seeks more export markets, and he did so once again in remarks quoted by local media outlets.
But at the same time, Indonesia and PT PAL both still have a long way to go. As Indonesia’s navy chief Ade Supandi noted in remarks quoted by local media outlets, the country needs least 20 more boats by 2024 to strengthen its force in accordance with targets in its Minimum Essential Force (MEF). Though he unsurprisingly did not dwell too much on what that meant for PT PAL, he did indicate that it would have to increase its human resources to support that target.
Supandi’s remarks are consistent with the remaining gaps that Saleh and others familiar with Indonesia’s defense industry have recognized. The extent to which these gaps can be filled, however, remains to be seen.
By Prashanth Parameswaran for The Diplomat