Surabaya, Indonesia – As Indonesian authorities announced this week that a rescue operation with Chinese submarine rescue boats had managed to recover “debris” from the KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, which sank off the coast of Bali last month, have been raised questions about the state of the country’s military and its operational readiness.
So far, rescuers have not been able to locate the main body of the affected ship that sank on April 21 while doing live fire torpedo drills.
The submarine, with 53 crew on board, is believed to have suffered a mechanical failure and sank to a depth of more than 840 meters (2,755 feet), well below its crushing depth of 300 meters (984 feet). ), causing it to break into three pieces.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Rear Admiral Iwan Isnurwanto said items from the KRI Nanggala-402 had been recovered, including torpedo cables, technical manuals, life rafts and metal plates from the outside of the ship, but that the rescue operation had not yet been located. the main body of the ship.
He added that lifting any part of the submarine would be a difficult task.
“Several times, the Tan Suo-2 [a Chinese rescue vessel] has attempted to lift the bow or bridge. They estimate that the main platform weighs about 18 tons, so it turns out they couldn’t lift it […]”He said.
Research teams have also discovered a mud-filled submarine crater and Isnurwanto said it was possible for the main section of the submarine to be housed in the crater, along with the crew bodies.
The sinking of the KRI Nanggala-402, built in 1977 in Germany and purchased by the Indonesian Navy in 1981, has raised questions about the overall quality of Indonesia’s defense teams, mostly from overseas.
Modernization of the program
Over the years, Indonesia has imported military equipment from more than 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and South Korea.
Indonesia began modernizing its equipment in 2007.
Gilang Kembara of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an Indonesian think tank focused on strategic, political, security and economic issues, says the Indonesian Navy launched its essential minimum force strategy in 2010. with the goal of upgrading and upgrading your computer in 2024.
“The Navy is modernizing its warships, which is done without taking into account the number of very old warships used in the fleet, many of which were manufactured during the Cold War,” he told Al Jazeera. “It is also focusing on rejuvenating its defense equipment in submarines, frigates and aircraft and helicopters for the Navy Aviation Center.”
In 2021, the budget of the Indonesian Armed Forces increased by 11 percent to 136 trillion Indonesian rupees ($ 9.2 million), following budget cuts in 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19 .
At the time of the sinking of the KRI Nanggala-402, the Indonesian Navy had ordered three additional submarines in South Korea, with the aim of operating a fleet of eight submarines in 2024. The KRI Cakra-401, the sister submarine of the KRI Nanggala-402, has been subject to essential maintenance since January 2021.
Comprised of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia faces a growing number of maritime challenges and has been in disputes with China whose fishing vessels have been found operating illegally in the waters of the archipelago.
Natalie Sambhi, executive director of Verve Research, a multidisciplinary research collective focused on the Southeast Asian military, previously told Al Jazeera that Indonesia’s underwater capabilities were “tremendously inadequate” given the potential magnitude of its operations.
Indonesia also has a history of self-production or civilian-military programs designed to complement its official armed forces, including the Bela Negara concept, which seeks to involve civil society directly in the largest national defense project, through paramilitary training. ideological education and the establishment of reserve auxiliary troops.
But Ian Wilson, a senior professor of policy and security studies at Murdoch University in Australia, says that approach could have left the armed forces ill-prepared for the challenges they now face.
“In many ways, this conflicts with the idea of a professional, modern and resourceful military focused on the protection and defense of Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty and national interest in the face of possible external sovereign threats.” , he said.
“Historically, the military has been primarily an institution focused on internal control and power, and this is perhaps one of the explanations for why, despite this centrality, it lacks resources in terms of equipment modernization.”
The Indonesian Armed Forces was founded in October 1945 after independence and currently has about 400,000 troops throughout the navy, army and air force.
Despite the challenges – and allegations of human rights abuses in some areas where it operates – for many in the country, military life is considered a competitive and illustrious career.
Rear Admiral Frans Wuwung was once the chief engineer of the KRI Nanggala-402, and says he felt nothing but pride when he worked on the ship from 1981 to 1985.
Wuwung says the submarine crew would have had to go through a rigorous training and selection process before being allowed to work on the ship.
“The submarine was such an important part of my life and my life experience. They can’t be separated, “he said.” I haven’t stopped crying, to be honest, since he disappeared.
“It’s as if the memories of my youth were sinking into it. And, even more heartbreaking, my younger brothers, the best people in this nation, had to die along with this legendary ship. ”