October 5, 2016

Indonesian Visions, Straits and Fluctuating Submarine Numbers

 Map A. Sea Depths The shallowness (less than 200 meters) of water surrounding most Southeast Asian nations has, to a degree, limited the takeup of submarines. Shallow water is often encumbered by reefs, many islands and larger landforms that define straits and narrows. There is also heavy ship traffic through many of the straits. These hazards are difficult and dangerous for submarines to move through. (Map courtesy US Centers for Environmental Information).

Indonesia currently has two mature age Type 209/1300s, KRI Cakra (401) and KRI Nanggala (402), both commissioned in 1981. 

To remedy this situation Indonesia has on order two Improved 209s built in South Korea, named/numbered (KRI Nagabanda (403) (also called KRI Nagapasa (403). Which is correct?) and KRI Trisula (404). These are likely to be commissioned in 2017 and 2018 respectively. 

A third Improved 209, KRI Nagaransang (405), is likely to be built at PT PAL (Surabaya), Java, Indonesia and perhaps commissioned in 2020 or later.

There have been many reports over the years that Russian and/or DCNS (French) submarines are also being considered. It would probably make much more sense to build additional 209s at PT PAL.
Indonesia may eventually want more than two submarines. The Indonesian Navy has more than 13,000 islands, seas and straits to oversee. Indonesian vessels have had confrontations with Chinese Coastguard vessels at the Natuna Islands at the northern end of the Indonesian Archipelago Also in the northern Archipelago Indonesia has experienced occasional confrontations with Malaysian surface vessels concerning Ambalat undersea oil resources (see Submarine Matters article).

 Map B. the Straits - If the 2.8km narrow and 25m shallow Malacca Strait were blocked the Sunda Strait, as shallow as 20m, is inadequate to take up much ship traffic. The Lombok Strait20km wide and up to 250m deep is better proportioned to handle large ships.  

Overall strategic visions are conveyed to the public from the highest level possible - which is the presidential. In a fine commentary Dharma Agastia records some of Indonesia's broad strategic visions requiring up to 12 submarines. These include visions from:
former Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with his Minimum Essential Force 
  (MEF) in the Strategic Defense Plan (Renstra), and
- current President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who, in 2014, held a “Global
  Maritime Fulcrum” or Axis vision.

Disagreements between Indonesian factions are likely to exist behind the presidential visions. There are likely to be many attitudes in the Indonesian Navy, broader defence and industry development bureacracies about how many more than 2 or 3 submarines can be bought, maintained and crewed.

At one end of the spectrum Indonesia may only have one crew to operate just one of the current Type 209s (KRI Cakra (401) or KRI Nanggala (402)) at any one time. Meanwhile the nucleus of another crew may be in South Korea training to use the first Improved 209 (KRI Nagabanda (403)).

Another faction may want the 3 Improved 209s +  two extra subs (for a total of five).

Others, seem to want a total of twelve submarines by the late 2020s for example 3 Improved 209s + 9 other subs (of Russian or French origin). Such a faction may be of submarine service origin because if the Indonesian Navy operated twelve submarines there may be no money or men left in the Navy for major surface ships.

Twelve might be justified by: expanding strategic responsibilities; Indonesia’s rising GDP enabling it to buy more; a return to Indonesia’s submarine glory days when it had twelve Russian supplied Whiskey class submarines (late 1950s to mid 1960s) used in the liberation of West Iran from the Dutch in 1962. The Indonesia Navy would also be mindful of the Australia's (perhaps excessive and unrealistic) plan to build 12 large SSKs from the late 2020s. 

In low level "warfare" confrontations submarines might produce a feeling of doubt in opponents. Submarines are always fine intelligence collection platforms. The central government can also issue orders to submarine commanders on whether it is necessary to escalate actions. 



Okaya Mild said...

KRI Nagapasa (403)

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

I heard that Japan, USA and India run secretly the “undersea wall” plan to construct huge SOSUS in the Bay of East Bengal. Does Australia join the plan? https://amti.csis.org/indias-undersea-wall-eastern-indian-ocean/


IRS said...

In the mid 2000s the Indonesian Navy actually published a document on their website that states their requirements. Even though it says twelve, the actual sum is actually ten. I took some notes back then, but probably should've just copied the whole thing.

According to my notes, they need four submarines for sea control operations and six coastal submarines for coastal (actually wrote amphibious, but that doesn't make sense does it?) operations. Not really sure what the other two are for.

I've also heard that the number twelve is for four submerines per ALKI (Indonesian archipelagic sea lanes). Two of those are through the choke points you mentioned, while the final one is located east of the Celebes.

Peter Coates said...


I wonder if the 10 subs were in addition to the 209s the the Indonesian Navy already has (ie. 2 Cakra class 209s, soon to be replaced by the 2 Chang Bogo 209s). This would equal the 12 figure.