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Indonesia Navy - Stagnation Under Suharto

In the aftermath of the abortive 1965 coup, the navy suffered a decline in influence within the armed forces and the nation because of suspected involvement in the coup attempt (particularly by the marine corps) and because of its small size in comparison with the army. A large portion of its vessels of Soviet or East European origin were quickly rendered non-operational owing to a lack of spare parts and maintenance expertise.

There were few significant withdrawals/deletions from the reported strength of the Indonesian Navy during the period 1965 - 1974, but in reality Surabaya Dockyard in 1975 told a totally different story. The naval yard at Surabaya contained the remnants of Sukarno's navy. It was crammed full of ships and although they were all fully manned they were generally non-operational, mainly due to lack of spares. The Soviets had withdrawn all support on Sukarno's departure and the ships had been systematically depleted of machinery and equipment. They had been cannibalized in an effort to keep some of the major units of the navy afloat and operational. By this time their operational strength was down to two ex-USSR Riga class frigates and one submarine. A reliable source stated that the one submarine that the Indonesians had left could not be submerged. Whenever there were foreign ships in port they would steam it out of harbour each morning with due ceremony to attract attention. The boat would spend the day out of sight somewhere on the surface, then steam back into port in the evening with more ceremony.

Until the late 1970s, the only major replacements were four frigates acquired from the United States Navy in 1974. They were actually refitted in Subic Bay in 1979/82 so may not have been operational before this. Since that time, the navy embarked on an upgrading program designed to develop a balanced fleet suited to operations in archipelagic waters. Over the 1978-92 period, it purchased submarines from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), light frigates from the Netherlands and Britain, and fast attack craft from the Republic of Korea (South Korea). In 1992 the Indonesian government announced plans to acquire thirty-nine used ships of various types from the navy of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The navy produced numerous small coastal craft in national shipyards as well. As of 1992, the fleet was composed of more than sixty ships and numerous smaller vessels.

Whereas the 1970s saw an increase in the fleet's ship inventory, the 1980s witnessed an effort to improve the navy's armament posture through the purchase of the Harpoon weapons system and the MK-46 torpedo. The 1990s were expected to be largely a period of consolidation and training.

Because of severe budgetary constraints imposed by the national government, no near-term acquisition of major new weapons systems was planned by the navy in the early 1990s. Continual overhaul of foreign-origin ships was perceived as the primary method to retain an operational fleet. Future projects included plans for an Indonesian-designed frigate and construction of a major naval base at Ratai Bay, Lampung Province. The immense costs involved, however, made achievement of these ambitious goals unlikely.

Post Cold War Modernization

The demise of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union made available significant quantities of advanced naval weaponry at relatively inexpensive prices (not unlike the 1950s when the US and USSR sold its excess force structure to the same region). Thailand had apparently threatened Indonesia's preeminent regional position, starting when Thailand purchased two corvettes in 1983, representing a significant upgrade in Thai naval capabilities. Indonesia responded in 1984 and 1986 by purchasing a total of seven frigates, a dramatic improvement in Indonesia naval capability. Perhaps more telling was the Thai order of a light aircraft carrier in 1992.

Subsequently, Indonesia purchased a total of thirty-nine ships of various types, including sixteen corvettes, from the former East German navy. The acquisition by BJ Habibie during the reign of President Suharto proved to be a mistake of major proportions. The ships were in poor condition, not suited for operations in the tropics, and difficult to staff and maintain. By 2005 many of them had been mothballed. But the 16 units of the Pattimura/Parchim class were re-engined in 2005, and given a new lease on life. The Indonesian navy itself produces numerous small coastal craft in national shipyards. Shipyard PT PAL produces patrol boats under a German license and as of 2009 was constructing the country's fourth landing platform dock vessel under South Korean supervision.

Enhancement of Indonesia's naval capabilities, including 2 Type-209 submarines, and ex-East German supplied 16 corvettes, 14 LSTs and 9 MCMs, caused concern among the other members of ASEAN. Ostensibly the vessels were to be used for anti-drug/anti-piracy duties and as such had most of their weapons removed prior to transfer, but still provided the basis for significant improvement in Indonesian naval capabilities, especially in force projection. Indonesia had discerned an erosion of its position as regional leader. This erosion had been manifested in the leaps in capabilities of Indonesia's neighbors during a period of virtual stagnation for Indonesian naval forces. Until the early 1990s, the modernization and capability building in naval forces that had occurred had done so primarily on the margins. The purchase of thirty-nine vessels from Germany signaled the end of complacency on the part of the Indonesians. The enhancement of neighbor's naval capabilities had forced Indonesia to continue to expand its naval forces.




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