Indonesia Submarine Capabilities

Type 209 diesel-electric attack submarine
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Indonesian navy, Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Laut (TNI–AL), operates two Type 209/1300 submarines acquired from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW, Germany). The TNI-AL is organized into the Eastern fleet (based in Surabaya), and the Western fleet (based in Jakarta). According to IISS Military Balance, future reorganization could involve the establishment of headquarters at Surabaya, and three commands at Riau (West), Papua (East), and Makassar (Central). [1]

The two Type 209/1300-class submarines (known as Cakra-class in Indonesia), entered into service with the TNI-AL in 1981. Cakra 401 was laid in November 1977 and commissioned in March 1981, and Nanggala 402 was laid in July 1978 and commissioned in July 1981. [2] These boats underwent major refits on different occasions, initially by HDW and later through South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME). These refits resulted in modernization of propulsions systems, detection and navigation systems, and new fire control and combat systems.

Indonesia's Submarine Table

In early April 2013 the TNI-AL opened the Palu Naval Base in Palu, Central Sulawesi, which faces the Palu Bay and will serve as the Navy's submarine base. "The KRI Cakra 401 and the KRI Nanggala 402 submarines have often docked here, as the sea is very deep and suitable for submarines," said Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Marsetio. The base is in close proximity to the Malaysian border, and "The Ambalat waters remains vulnerable, so the submarine base in Palu is most strategic to secure the region," Marsetio added. [3]

Indonesia occupies a pivotal geostrategic maritime position in Asia bordering the three major sea-lanes-the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok Straits-that connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Straits of Malacca (north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra) offer the shortest route of the three and thereby cater to more than 40 percent of global commerce, including an estimated 13.6 million bbl/d of oil (in 2009). As the largest archipelagic country in the world, with more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia faces more significant maritime challenges and opportunities than do other Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia has 108,000 kilometers of coastline and claims around 5.8 million square km of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with abundant natural resources, including huge reserves of fossil fuels and rich fishing grounds. This vast coastline and resource-rich maritime areas are also a source of numerous challenges including terrorism, piracy, illegal fishing, natural disasters, weapons peddling, drug trafficking, and other non-traditional and trans-national security threats.

Currently the main security concerns for Indonesia emanate from piracy and terrorism. [4] Several insurgent and terrorist groups operate in the country, with Jemaah Islamiah (JI) posing the most significant threat. Another source of tension in the region is presented by unsettled maritime borders and overlapping maritime resource claims. According to an article by Jakarta Post, "Of 10 neighbors, Indonesia has partially settled maritime boundaries with seven nations and has not yet established any maritime boundaries with the Philippines, Palau and Timor Leste." [5]
Of the three key neighbors-Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore-Indonesia's relations with Malaysia are the most sensitive, due to complex and overlapping claims over the maritime borders between the two countries. These claims are located in the Straits of Malacca and the exclusive southern economic zone, Singapore Straits, the Sulawesi Sea and the South China Sea. [6] Therefore, it is no surprise that in 2010 the Deputy Chief of Staff for Navy Vice Admiral Marsetio noted of all the unsettled maritime claims, that the ones with "Malaysia posed the biggest potential threat of conflict, especially over the disputed Ambalat area." [7]

The Ambalat is a 15,000 square km maritime territory in the Celebes Sea with huge oil and gas reserves; estimates for just one of the blocks suggest around 764 million barrels of oil and 1.4 trillion cubic feet of gas. In 2009, this disputed area witnessed a minor maritime dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, which could have escalated into a naval crisis. [8] Again in August 2010, a dispute over illegal fishing resulted in Indonesia taking into custody some Malaysian fishermen; Malaysia reacted by detaining three Indonesian officials. Although eventually the issue was settled amicably, it illustrates the fragile nature of maritime claims in the region. [9]

Similarly, in the case of the South China Sea, although Jakarta does not have claims over Spratly or Paracel Islands, its EEZ overlaps with China's maritime claims in the region. This overlap could have resulted in a rift in 2010 over transgress of Chinese fishing trawlers into the Indonesia waters of Natuna that China claims as its own. [10]

In spite of the overlapping maritime claims, the danger of a military conflict in the region is decreasing. In recent years Jakarta has made considerable progress in strengthening relations with its neighbors, especially Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore. After the recent incidents, both Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on rules of engagement at sea to prevent clashes between the navies of the two countries. [11] In 2010 Jakarta ratified an agreement with Singapore finalizing the contours of its western maritime boundary segment. Indonesia's relations with Singapore improved further with the signing of a Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2008 that includes plans for joint military exercises.

In 2008 Australia and Indonesia brought into force an Agreement on the Framework for Security Cooperation (Lombok Treaty) that provides a treaty-level framework for addressing traditional and non-traditional security challenges including cooperation in defense, counter-terrorism, intelligence, maritime security, smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal fishing. [12] Further, in 2009 the chiefs of the Australian and Indonesian armed forces signed a joint statement to enhance defense cooperation. [13]

Since the late 1990s, Indonesia has witnessed a steady modernization of various aspects of its military structure, including doctrinal and operational principles. In 2007, the Defense Ministry published a new doctrine called Total Defense System (Sistem Pertahanan Semesta or Sishanta), which calls for total participation of national entities and resources, and takes a comprehensive view of the security challenges facing the country. [14]

During this period, Jakarta also announced service specific doctrines that called for an increased role for the navy and the air force in defending national interests. This emphasis is evident in the appointment of Navy chief of staff Admiral Agus Suhartono as the new chief of the Indonesian military. [15] Additionally, TNI's principal doctrine was revised from Catur Dharma Eka Karma into Tri Dharma Eka Karma, which necessitates TNI work towards developing "force projection strategies with 'deterrence' and 'denial' capabilities as key objectives, to defend state sovereignty and maintain territorial integrity against foreign and domestic threats." [16]

One of the key weapons platforms that could potentially enhance TNI's "deterrence" and "denial" capabilities is a modern submarine force. In 2009, Navy Chief Admiral Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno alluded to the potential role of submarines by noting, "Submarines are not a mere means of war but also a strategic equipment that could strengthen Indonesia's bargaining position against other countries." [17] The deterrent role of submarines was also noted by First Admiral Iskandar Sitompul in the context of the "Malaysia factor." He stated that Indonesia "must possess submarines with greater deterrent effect. If they [Malaysians] know we have that, they will be scared." [18]

Accordingly, in the last ten years at numerous occasions various senior TNI-AL officials have stressed the requirement for an increased number of submarines to protect national interests and guard resources as well as sea-lanes. In 2003, Jane's reported Admiral Bernard Kent Sondakh as stating that Indonesia needed at least six submarines if the country's key straits (Malacca, Sunda and Lombok) were to be secured. [19] In 2006, Agence France-Presse reported that Jakarta was contemplating procuring around 12 submarines from Russia, South Korea or China. Given the limited role of submarines in standard coastal and/or anti-piracy patrols, this large submarine procurement plan became a source of concern throughout the region. [20] In 2007, reacting to the media reports that Indonesia was on the verge of finalizing a deal for eight submarines from Russia, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted, "Any country that makes such a big deal should explain why it's important for their security and how they assess the security situation around their country," and called upon Jakarta to explains its intentions. Similarly, Professor Hugh White, a former Australian deputy secretary of defense, said that procurement in these numbers would be "most strategically significant for Australia; if there was any conflict with Indonesia these submarines would massively complicate the use of Australian surface ships." [21]

Owing largely to budgetary constraints, these procurements did not materialize; nevertheless, officials from TNI-AL continue to express aspirations for a large submarine fleet. In 2010 Deputy Naval Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Marsetio expressed his belief that Indonesia needs 39 more submarines to protect the country's vast marine territory against external threat. [22] The Admiral noted, "The submarines will be stationed in various parts of the country's marine territory. We will give extra security, particularly on outlying islands and waters prone to foreign countries' claims." Despite these continuing aspirations and a growing Indonesian economy, TNI-AL would find it difficult to fund such a large number of underwater platforms. A more reasonable number put forth by various sources, including Jane's, would be around 4 to 6 boats during this decade. [23] Media reports citing Indonesia's Defense Strategic Plan 2024 note that the document is aiming for a capability of at least 10 submarines. [24]

[1] "East Asia and Australasia," The Military Balance, Routledge, 2010, p. 406.
[2] "Cakra Type 209/1300 class," Jane's Fighting Ships, 2 March 2011,
[3] Ruslan Sangadji, "Navy opens new base prepared for submarines," The Jakarta Post, 6 April 2013,
[4] For more information on maritime security issues in Southeast Asia, refer "Maritime Bulletin," Maritime Security Programme, Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,; Joshua Ho, "The Security of Sea Lanes in Southeast Asia," Military Technology, Volume 29, Number 5, May 2005; and J. Ashley Roach, "Enhancing Maritime Security in the Straits of Malacca & Singapore," Journal of International Affairs, Volume 59, Number 1, Fall 2005.
[5] I. Made Andi Arsana, "Reviewing Indonesian maritime boundaries in 2010," Jakarta Post, 30 December 2010,
[6] Angguntari C. Sari, "Managing maritime border incidents," Jakarta Post, 8 August 2010,
[7] "Indonesian navy deputy chief of staff sees Malaysia as biggest potential threat," Horizons, December 2010, p. 25,
[8] Angguntari C. Sari, "Managing maritime border incidents," Jakarta Post, 8 August 2010,; Melissa Goh, "Malaysia, Indonesia agree to speed up maritime border talks," Channel News Asia, 6 September 2010,; and Mustaqim Adamrah, "RI, Malaysia to avoid force in Ambalat row," The Jakarta Post, 23 June 2010,
[9] I. Made Andi Arsana, "Reviewing Indonesian maritime boundaries in 2010," Jakarta Post, 30 December 2010,
[10] Lilian Budianto, "South China Sea dispute a potential rift in RI-China ties: Envoy," The Jakarta Post, 25 May 2010,
[11] "Malaysia, Indonesia agree on rules of engagement at sea to prevent clashes," Bernama.Com, 19 February 2010.
[12] "Indonesia country brief," Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government,
[13] "Australia, Indonesian Defense Chiefs Sign Cooperation Agreement," Defense Daily Vol. 11 No. 32, 6 November 2009.
[14] Leonard C. Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, Assessing 12-year Military Reform in Indonesia: Major Strategic Gaps for the Next Stage of Reform, WP No. 227, Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies; and Evan A. Laksmana, "Reinterpreting the total defense system," The Jakarta Post, 19 May 2010,
[15] Erwida Maulia, "Hopes For a More 'Sea-Oriented' Indonesia," The Jakarta Post, 16 September 2010.
[16] Leonard C. Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, Assessing 12-year Military Reform in Indonesia: Major Strategic Gaps for the Next Stage of Reform, WP No. 227, Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
[17] "RI may purchase Kilo or Changbogo class submarines," Antara News, 8 September 2009,
[18] Rizal Sukma, "Indonesia's Security Outlook, Defence Policy and Regional Cooperation," in Asia Pacific Countries' Security Outlook and Its Implications for the Defense Sector, The National Institute for Defense Studies (Japan), NIDS Joint Research Series No. 5, 2010,
[19] "Submarine Forces: Indonesia," Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, 25 January 2011,
[20] "Indonesia Considers Buying Up to 12 Submarines," Defense Industry Daily, 31 January 2006,
[21] Peter Hartcher, "Japan concerned at new subs for Indonesia," The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 September 2007,
[22] "RI needs 39 more submarines," Antara News, 22 December 2010,
[23] "Submarine Forces: Indonesia," Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, 25 January 2011,
[24] Koh Swee Lean Collin, "Indonesia's Submarine Play," The Diplomat, 19 January 2012,

August 2, 2013
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