JAKARTA -- Indonesia aims to expand its submarine fleet by as much a triple its current line up to 12 vessels, multiple defense sources here say, just a month after one of its subs was determined to be lost, killing its entire crew of 53.
The move comes in response to repeated Chinese incursions into its waters. Jakarta will also beef up its fleet of corvettes.
The country had deployed five submarines, but lost one, the KRI Nanggala-402. Indonesia ranks third in the world with the area of waters that fall under its exclusive economic zone, but the size of its submarine fleet pales in comparison to countries such as Japan, which ranks sixth and has 20 vessels.
Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has indicated that the country will step up investment in military equipment in the wake of the sub accident. As for submarines, Indonesia is pursuing a joint production agreement with South Korea, while France, Russia and Turkey have offered to export the vessels. Japan is exploring the idea of selling submarines to Jakarta.
The KRI Nanggala-402 suddenly disappeared on April 21 while preparing for torpedo exercises off Bali. The craft was built in 1977 in Germany and acquired by Indonesia in 1981. The nation's military says the sub was likely hit by a giant undersea wave that knocked it out of control.
The incident fueled a sense of urgency in the country about the state of its submarine fleet. China's 'nine-dash' line intersects a portion of Indonesia's EEZ around the Natuna Islands. Chinese fishing boats operate there, and Beijing has also deployed its coast guard ships, which in February it authorized to use firepower. Jakarta is bracing for a possible increase in activity in the area.
If the number of submarines can be increased to the target level, they can conduct intensive surveillance in areas that are difficult for patrol ships to reach, said Khairul Fahmi of the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies, an Indonesian think tank, indicating this will reduce the presence of foreign ships around the Natunas.
Indonesia has been working with South Korea on submarines in recent years and is pursuing technical cooperation with Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. Of the four subs currently in service, two were built in South Korea and one was produced at home employing technology from South Korea. The ill-fated submarine that sank was completely refurbished in South Korea in 2012.
When Indonesia imports defense kit, it asks for technology transfers to boost its own technical abilities and to secure jobs. South Korea has offered favorable terms along with its prices. But the Indonesian side has not been satisfied with the capabilities of these vessels, citing power supply problems connected to batteries, among other problems.
Submarines from Japan would be more state-of-the-art, being much quieter and offering more time of operation underwater. But the prices would be higher and the technology transfer conditions would be more sensitive.