Sunday, March 27, 2016

Indonesian military (TNI) may up the ante on Batam to underscore abang-adik dynamic

With several years to go before Indonesia makes good its pledge to strengthen its air traffic control (ATC) assets ahead of a push to claim control of air lanes now under the Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR), Indonesian officials have already started cranking up the rhetoric.

A recent commentary by former chief of the Indonesian air force, Air Chief Marshal Chappy Hakim, points to the lines of argument that will assail us whenever the FIR issue comes into play. These stoke sentiments close to the hearts of many Indonesians by making a call not just for a nationalistic spirit but also by sowing the perception that foreign interference in Indonesian sovereign territory infringes on their beloved Tanah Airku (i.e. Homeland).

This confluence of factors - fanning nationalistic fervour and the need to stand united against foreign interference - is a surefire way for rousing the rakyat. So why let facts get in the way of a good story?

For an august personality who once commanded the TNI-AU to raise such points signals the thinking that prevails at the highest levels of the Indonesian elite.

Who pays the price for being portrayed as the money-faced and meddlesome neighbour? Singapore.

Alas, it is not the rhetoric or jingoistic statements that Singaporeans should watch out for.

Cleverly crafted essays pitched for a domestic audience may well go viral in ASEAN's largest and most populous country. But it is Indonesian attempts at flexing its military muscle to telegraph its hardline stance that are worth watching out for.

Their current weapon of choice appears to be occasional Indonesian air force deployments to Hang Nadim Airport (BTH) on Batam island, which lies within sight of Singapore.

Indonesian warplanes can fly anywhere they wish. But when Indonesian fighter pilots ignore, or seem blissfully ignorant of, flight procedures and protocols in some of Asia's most congested air lanes, we are waiting for an accident to happen.

To have fast jets flying among passenger jets with little or no regard for ATC instructions from Changi flirts with danger, imperils aviation safety and flies in the face of internationally agreed standards of behaviour mandated by ICAO.

You would have guessed by now that such aerial theatrics have taken place in Singapore's FIR.

As the TNI does not have a permanent fighter detachment on Batam, the TNI's flying circus performs only for a limited time - usually for a month or so once a year. A handful of warplanes operating from an open tarmac at BTH is all it takes to remind Singapore that the TNI is in business.

It is a safe bet that the TNI will up the ante in coming years. Such muscle-flexing performances may be intended as a political sideshow for domestic consumption. But Singapore should never desensitise itself to less-than-friendly military posturing on its doorstep.

In time to come, TNI fast jets may not be the only weapon of choice for such theatrics.

Knowing Singapore's propensity for planning ahead and preparing for worst-case scenarios, it is likely that our defence planners have proactively sketched out scenarios involving other war machines as well as drawer plans should the muscle-flexing cross the line.

Singapore will stand alone if it comes within the range rings of tactical weapons that exert a strategic effect. This is because the world's arms control regimes that guard against the proliferation of strategic weapons are worded for weapons with a powerful punch and a long reach that stretches for thousands of kilometres.

A tiny city-state like Singapore cannot expect international arms control watchdogs to view the movement of tactical war machines in our neighbourhood with the same level of importance or alarm as the way weapons like cruise missiles are moved across the European continent. Neither will the defence press see such movements as newsworthy or sinister.

So we'll have to count on ourselves.

You have to ask yourself how far these quasi bully boy tactics would go if Indonesia really wanted to exert its strong arm in its imagined abang-adik (big brother-little brother) dynamic.

Indonesians love to remind their countrymen and foreigners alike that the distance between the extreme ends of their archipelago will cover width of the continental United States. It's indeed true! This is a geographical reality that underscores the vastness of our southern neighbour.

We hear the message loud and clear.

At the same time, one hopes Indonesia realises that the prosper-thy-neighbour approach that Singapore fosters is a two-way street.

If the occasional (and predictable) posturing by the TNI on Singapore's doorstep is anything to go by, it will not be business-as-usual if and when Indonesia "takes back" control of the FIR allocated to Singapore by ICAO.

Check Six.

You may also like:
Indonesia-Singapore defence relations: A special friendship. Click here


shawncentric said...

Methinks our cousins have other priorities to mind now, specifically creating a proper base infrastructure in the Natuna Islands. If someone wanted to play hardass it'll only take a couple of marine brigades a day or so to "rescue our illegally detained comrade fishermen" n control one of Indonesia's greatest natural gas resources.. which is piped to SG.

Also, Singapore's yearly defense budget is a couple billion larger than Indonesia's, without the territorial extent to defend.

Unknown said...

I can't understand your concern ... please note that the current situation in this region has changed significantly compare to 100 years ago ..

It would be better if Singapore can hand over its FIR from Changi to Indonesia as soon as possible ... Singapore will not loss everything, but your good relationship with your big neighbor will "deteriorate" if you still do not cooperate with them ...

Everthing has changed ... you can maintain your status quo whatever you want it ...

Donald said...

Typical Indonesian arrogance - "u better do this 'or else'..." your relationship with "big brother" will be affected.

The FIR is not Singapore's to "hand over". It is an International agreement!

You want cooperation, get your own shit together and lets all have a good discussion in ICAO.

Don't be acting like a spoilt bully.

Benjamin said...

Now with the upcoming upgraded seletar airport terminal1 and the new terminal 4 and mega terminal 5 as well as a third runway chances are the airspace will be busier and congested. They need to do more if they want to take over fir unfortunately but thats competition so they cant blame us for expanding

Benjamin said...

True.Recently in the news indonesia say big countries should not bully snaller ones.I find it ironic i hope they too will keep ot to their word when singapore is smaller

Unknown said...

Hahahaha ... As I said before .. the geopolitic in this region has changed significantly in the last 10 years and .. no body can't stop this ... Please also don't acting like UK did 100 years ago .. Singapore now is not same with UK 100 years ago ...

Don't also thinking that all "Singa" (lion) in this world are yours because of your country name is Singapore ..

I know that it is hard and difficult to accept this new reality ... However ... like or dislike .. you have to accept this fact.. It will be be better if you can cooperate with your jiran (Malaysia and Indonesia) to secure and develop this region for all ... not only Singapore ... please also change your existing minds that your jiran are your "enemies" and will steal your wealth ..

My suggestion ... as an island in this archipelago ... don't think that you can control and own all archip[elago as you dit it for a long time ...

Donald said...

Everyone IS cooperating... Its your own delusion if u think Singapore is "taking advantage" of your country.

As for the FIR, ask ICAO.

Unknown said...

Its a hard fact in defence if a national interest is at stake in exchange for the diplomacy. Some militarymen will never accept this proposition even though they knew and was thought that military business is subservient to the politic.

Singapore has the control over the airspace of south of South China Sea since it heritage the role of RAF Malaya Command since 1930s. In 1970s, it was agreed at the RAN Meeting that this role is to be continued by Singapore ATC Authority. But the decision was made based on agreed provisions of lnternational Convention if Civil Aviation or better known as Chicago Convention which all parties, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the members.

Nevertheless, the main principle is still applied. More than 1/3 of Singapore FIR airspace are territorial airspace of lndonesia. This is because lndonesia adopted achipelagic system in demarcated their national boundary. It was officially recognised by Malaysia in 1986 agreement. That means, a line of 12 nautical miles away from each island within lndonesia archipelagos that connected all of the islands are lndonesian teritorial boundary. To put in a simple analogy, a line that connected Batam lsland to the most outer islets of Anambas then to the most outer islets of Natuna and then connect to Tanjung Datu, which border with Sarawak, is the border of Indonesian territory. The airspace from that line to downsouth, is lndonesia territorial airspace.

When come to that, the first Article of Chicago Convention stated that a state has all its jurisdiction within its territorial airspace. Its means what TNI-AU fighter boys did within Batam airspace, Singapore cannot says anything.

But how about the traffic in Changi that affected by those act? To address this issue, Annex 11 to the Chicago Convention stated that a country can delegate the amnistration of its airspace to another country or organisation. But in doing so, it does not derogate the sovereignty of that country. So in the case of the conduct of TNI-AU fighter boys in Batam, if Indonesia throw the sovereignty card, then the CAAS will get hell in their work.

So how to live peacefully? Singapore also conduct a lot of military exercises. The most prominent one may be the twice a year FPDA military exercise which involve closure of Changi Airport at certain time. For this purpose, planning started normally a year before which not only involve the militaries from the 5 nations but also CAAS and DCA Malaysia.

My assumption is that, Singapore will be on losing side when come to airspace argument if Indonesia playing hardball. But Indonesia does not have the sole voice in those airspace because 1986 agreement 'import' Malaysia into the picture because of Malaysian traditional transit right between Peninsular Malaysia to East Malaysia.

The fact is, this issue is more than 'the talk cock and strategy' of KEMENTAH boys alone....