The archipelago structure of the national territory makes Timor-Leste vulnerable to new threats by sea and by land. This fact requires the authorities of the State to update the capabilities of the Armed Forces, studying and defining a military defence capability that provides for the development of an adequate Light Naval Force and the restructuring of the Land Forces.
In the study by King’s College (commissioned by UNTAET [United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor] in 2000, and the basis of the creation of the Falintil-Defence Forces of Timor-Leste), the majority of the donor countries, with the exception of Portugal, did not agree that the Falintil should have a Naval Component, which stated: “…Coastal security will be minimally assured in the short term by the frontier and customs services, whose modest capabilities are better than nothing. The informal indication that Australia may be disposed to patrol East Timor’s territorial waters should be analysed to ensure a greater degree of protection.”
A new sophisticated and modern Light Naval Force must have the inter-operability capability to secure the maritime route through the straits of Ombai and Wetar (which constitutes an important commercial maritime passage for the world market), in particular for the escort and security of the tankers that transport crude oil through the sea of Timor and for other parties who use our territorial/jurisdictional waters; and exclusive capability for the high level of security required on oil extraction platforms.
Timor-Leste has a coastline of approximately 700 km (435 miles) but, owing to its abrupt relief and lack of major rivers, there is very little in the way of sheltered anchorage. Numerous coral reefs off the coast provide a further hazard to shipping. The seaport in Dili is the main and only international seaport of entry to Timor-Leste. The harbor is surrounded by a natural reef that provides protection against severe weather. The 300m (.186 miles) long wharf can handle a maximum of two vessels at any one time, and is divided into three multi-functional berths. Roll on, roll off facilities are available for front-loading vessels. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force, the Government of Japan, and the Emergency Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project invested US $7 million into reconstructing the wharf. Small wharfs or jetties are located at Hera, Tibar, Com, Caravela, the enclave of Oecussi, and the island of Atauro. The latter two are the only means of access to these localities of Timor-Leste. None of the internal waterways in the country are suitable for transport due to being too steep.
Timor-Leste has the right to claim the Exclusive Economic Zone (ZEE) in accordance with UN Conventions and International Maritime Law, which includes the surface, sub-soil, and airspace. Timor-Leste must face up to the problems related to its territorial waters and the EEZ, while knowing that the level of threat is of low intensity and of a non-conventional nature, being related to incursions of illegal/criminal activities. As a result, the analyses of conventional threats do not exclude from the strategic environment the need to define the EEINP.
In this context, it is important, and a determinant for the security of the country, that the Armed Forces of Timor-Leste have the effective naval capacity to impede and conduct operations against any type of threat, it being an imperative of national sovereignty to guarantee the protection of its sea borders. Without this capacity the Government of Timor-Leste will not be capable of contributing to regional and world security, disputing the argument of supremacy of force, contributing to decisions in partnership, and impeding illegal activities by ships in its territorial waters, which will consequently affect, directly or indirectly, national sovereignty.
However, taking into account the intention of the conventional forces in the region, the risk related to the threat to stability by means of the maritime environment is very low. In this context, it is important to remember that the electronic warfare capability of the naval assets in the region is sufficient to cover large areas of Timor-Leste, although its capability for detailed analysis of the information collected is unknown.
The risk related to the capacity of the crews of fishing vessels and other commercial and foreign ships to illegally exploit the waters of Timor-Leste is assessed as "medium", taking into account the lack of patrols in its territorial waters and the EEZ. This level of threat means that Timor-Leste must maintain a more effective naval capacity, which will ensure the surveillance and protection of these territorial waters.
The dynamic of modernisation of the naval forces of the ASEAN States led to the Navies increasing their operations in coastal areas to the outer limits of their EEZs and beyond their frontiers. Several Navies have developed three-dimensional capabilities with the introduction of high-end submarines, aerial combat and interception capability, and control and support capability for ground combat. The principal focus was the transition from coastal defence and law enforcement to the development of capabilities to patrol, escort and attack over a longer range. The principal elements acquired that characterise this modernisation of the naval force are: ocean patrol vessels, rapid assault ships equipped with SSM, corvettes, frigates, naval air capacity, ASW capacity and diesel submarines.
Indonesia updated its capability to control its maritime choke points, defence of maritime communication maritime routes (SLOC), and protection of deep-sea platforms (off-shore). The Philippines increased its naval budget to cover costs of maintenance, structural reforms and limited procurement of logistics support ships, rapid patrol boats, rapid assault boats, and minesweepers.
The ASEAN Navies were also equipped with anti-ship missiles. All the States bought the Exocet. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore equipped their frigates, warships and FACs with Harpoon SSM. Indonesia acquired the Ikara ASW. Indonesia and Malaysia acquired anti-aircraft missiles for their frigates (SEACAT and ASPIDE). Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand developed maritime surveillance capabilities in their EEZs by means of the acquisition of Boeing 737-200 Surveillers and Lockheed C130s.
Timor-Leste does not need a large Naval Force capable of defeating its most probable enemies, but rather a lightweight component of an Integrated Naval Force; that is, a Light Naval Force able to defend national interests and act as a deterrent. In pragmatic terms, Timor-Leste must begin with an integrated and Light Naval Force capacity and steadily develop it into a Light Naval Force. This Light Naval Force should be compatible with national resources and responsibilities, and possess interoperable operational resources (with emphasis placed on good investment in up-to-date recent technology) and appropriately trained crews.
If it fulfils these requirements, the Light Naval Force will be able to carry out EEZ surveillance, patrol the SLOCs, escort and assure the safe passage of oil tankers and guarantee the security of oil platforms. It must act as a deterrent against possible attacks, possibly contribute to peaceful conflict resolution, participate in operations of common interest under the terms of the partnership and, essentially, cooperate in missions of public interest carried out by the state. In future perspective, this naval capacity could take on a more offensive and proactive stance in defence of the SZPNIs, in response to the regional requirements.
The Falintil (Defence Forces of Timor-Leste) component can provide strategic visibility, giving prestige to Timor-Leste, as long as measures are taken towards its consolidation and development in the next 15 to 20 years, mainly with respect to surface oceanic and command and control capabilities.
In order to modernise and resize the Light Naval Force in accordance with State objectives, it is necessary to urgently acquire new Coastal Patrol Vessels with defence and attack capabilities, and greater flexibility and autonomy; low cost investment, operation and maintenance Rapid Assault Launches and Medium Landing Crafts, for the main security tasks (such as supporting military operations, search and rescue, collaborating in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism, illicit immigration, smuggling, piracy, surveillance against the overuse of sea resources, polluters, etc). The naval resources acquired should be appropriate to the type of sea on Timor-Leste’s northern and southern coasts and should be adequately supported by a network of Naval Bases.
The Light Naval Force should possess an autonomous naval logistics support capability for military purposes, and have light and medium landing crafts and multivariant logistics vessels (LDL and LDM). This capability can be used as an alternative transport service (if and when requested) for missions related to humanitarian aid and public interest.
The Light Naval Force should possess the capability to discourage any act of humiliation of the State of Timor-Leste at sea, or any offensive against its vital interests. It should also be able to participate effectively and with dignity in any alliances which the State may commit itself to. This capability should be progressively comprised of Combat Vessels (frigate and corvette categories, equipped with land-to-land and land-to-air missiles in 3-D) supported by an Ocean Patrol Vessel core, support and attack helicopter units, cutting-edge radar and sensors, Marines and anti-mine divers.
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