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ArticleDefense and Security

Regional Maritime Security Threats in South East Asia

In accordance to a notes regarding World War I and II review, there was a very important quote by General Henry H. Arnold which stated that, “The Next war will not start with a naval action, nor….By aircraft flown by human being. It might be very well started with missiles being dropped on the capital of a country say…. Washington DC”. It was delivered by 1945. It was clearly a reflection of a futurist who did not only project the strategic aspects but also preventive actions towards the rapid development of civilization, namely science and technology.

11 September 2001. It happened a tragedy in which-so-called the “911”. An abrupt attack underwent in New York and Washington DC at the same time. The Israelian Armed Forces and others have been developing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with regards to the above. It, however, reflected what General Arnold saw after the World War. Then, we have the rights to say that we are currently in an advanced technology era where our common threats are not merely coming from waters but sky which is so unpredictable. Moreover, air strikes, in relation to the technology advancement, could be conducted also by drones. In regards of this, talking about a comprehensive defence system could not be detached from the principles of air defence, namely Detection, Identification, Interception and Destrcution. For the first principle, it also embraced air surveillance. With regards to that, it seems to be interesting by starting the discussion from drones (UAV) which have been more widely used in years.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Fred Kaplan, a senior columnist, in one of his articles in Newsweek of 28 September 2009, narrated that the advanced science and technology have changed the global infrastructure in a very rapid manner. In the article which observed about Air Forces, he found out that for the last 60 years, Air Forces, especially the fighters, have been enjoying extravagant and glamor life compared to any other units, to be mentioned, the elite units. They are Supermans’ “transformation” with their fighter planes which are roaring the sky, swooping to the right and left hand-sides and speeding above the sky. A fighter in their uniform can only be “beaten” by an astronaut with their oxygenated mask and the “anti-g-suit” twining along their body. With regards to that, along with the speedy and agile manouvres of fighter planes followed by roaring the sky, a number of young men are inspired to be a fighter. It is commonly said that, in regards to the tough physical fitness standards, a fighter is a well-built creature with their firm, masculine, cool and strong image. A fighter looks like a real and unbeatten hero. They are idols for so many beautiful and pretty ladies as depicted in movies, one of which is Top Gun.
However, what would happen in the mean time? People worry that the heroic depictions would only be the past time. Technology might take a very significant role in changing the status quo of the Air Forces. In the mean time, the transformation has been taking place in the United States Air Forces (USAF). It began with the Congress’ concern towards the expensive expenditures for fighter planes including the fighters training. To make the expenditure be more efficiently, they chose to optimize technology usage in order to manufacture efficient aircrafts as drones. It is small and cheap but a very complete package with advanced and latest technology. On the other hand, the phenomenon of drones lead to no casualties of the fighters.
Begun with the after-Cold War arguments that United States of America are no longer in red-alert and followed by prolonged debates on massive budgets on the latest fighter planes, such as Raptor F-22 and the others, drones started to be developed. Spending billions of Dollars for only a dozen of units leads people to come to another rational conclusion to cut the defence budget and find another solution which is as worth as the current Air Defence power.
The Congress and US Department of Defense led by Robert Gates took benefit from the momentum of global economic crisis by succesfully convincing President Obama not to settle fighter plane development budgets, including F-22 Raptor, which is claimed as “the most outstanding fighter plane ever built” by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the Australian Chief Armed Forces, and worthed US$ 180 million for each. Thus, UAVs took the role of fighter planes. Currently, the United States of America is combating against global terrorism which happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. The open and far-away war are not relevant to the charactiristics of fighter planes, as Raptor. Hence, UAVs are believed to be “the weapon of choice” for such war. Relatively more competitive in price compared to that of Raptor and also compatibly fit with the war characteritics, UAVs are truly the weapon of choice. Then, we might see a science-fiction-like war. A fighter with his joystick “sits” on the cockpit, either in Nevada or other places, and operates his plane which is thousands of miles away in an unknown desert in Afghanistan or Iraq. Then, it, somehow, obliterated the established image of fighters. By only sitting on a chair, people might suspect that the fighter is an obese wearing glasses yet smart at playing the joystick. The budget ceiling, the remarkable brain ability to develop sciences and the transformation of threats and challenges have changed the image of glamour and luxurious fighters. From 1947 to 1982, the Air Chief of the USAF used to be bombers. From 1982 to 2006, the Chiefs used to be fighters. In 2006, the chief used to be a Hercules pilot. In the mean time, people predicted that the future chiefs might be a UAV “pilot”. We will no longer have fighters. Treating a human (fighter pilot) as a “flying bullet” has to be ended at the earliest. Civilazations will move forwards. Fighters will no longer be a humanly profession. The death of a pilot in the war field has to be and currently is avoidable due to technology!
In the mean time, UAVs are not only a weapon system but also a surveillance which might be beneficial for Air Patrol in a particular district. To be highlighted, UAVs are strongly efficient and operated by qualified human resources. The technology development has brought added value to UAVs usage. It also produced the latest camera with the highest resolution attached to UAVs.

Global Phenomena
In the Post-Cold War era, there are no longer two blocks vied each other. Now, we are dealing with international terrorism as in global one. Suicide bombings and separatists in Middle East and Afghanistan have put different colors in present time. However, amidst the development of civilazation, there are current issues regarding Global Green and Environmental Protection. Moreover, global security have become our common concern which needs to be tackled across the region. Thus, it stimulates the “birth” of the region responsibility concept within the common security framework. The national interests are no longer isolated within the rigid framework yet have to be applicable to a broader spectrum, which is the interests for region security and stability.
In regards to global green and global responsibility issues, we are currently dealing with smokey haze from forest fires. The forest fires which occured in dry season always happens in many places around the world. It turned to be a unique stand-point when the haze did not only bother the origin country but also the neighboring countries. That is happening in Indonesia. Several fire spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan Island often troubles Singapore and Malaysia. Having been protested, the problem became not that simple as people thought. The haze from forest fires, indeed, came from Indonesian territory yet the fire spots were originally concession districts of several Singaporean and Malaysian companies. Here, we figured out another causing factor of air pollution which was a regular phenomena during dry season. Then, we have no other options but responsibility to the environment preservation which belongs to interested countries. Undoubtedly, the security issues also belong to our common responsibility and concern, ideally, along with the speedy economic growth.

Global Development
In order to look further on the latest global development, it would be better to take a look on how Australians see it.
The Australian White Paper, tittled “Australia in the Asian Century”, which was just published during the governancy of Julia Gillard, clearly defines their concern on global development. The White Paper quoted inter alia:
“Asia’s rise is changing the world. This is a defining feature of the 21st century – the Asian Century. These developments have profound implications for people everywhere. Asia’s extraordinary ascent has already changed the Australian economy, society and strategic environment. The scale and pace of the change still to come mean Australia is entering a truly transformative period in our history.Within only a few years, Asia will not only be the world’s largest producer of goods and services, it will also be the world’s largest consumer of them. It is already the most populous region in the world. In the future, it will also be home to the majority of the world’s middle class.”
The preceeding paragraph conveys how Australia sees global development which might be concentrated on Asia. Obviously, the development would influence sea as in waters and air sectors, mostly. Now, we have come to a part specifying on the Pacific Region and South China Sea.

South China Sea
In the last three years, there have been a lot of seminars, workshops and panel discussions on the same topic, namely the South China Sea. At a domestic level, Indonesia has held discussions on the South China Sea five times. These discussions were not taken lightly. Even experts from developed countries were invited to participate to provide more insight. The South China Sea is a very popular issue that most everyone, including the person on the street, has been talking about zealously. The competing claims in the South China Sea are not something new. The area borders a great number of nations; naturally, it has been a long-standing source of conflicts. Disputes over several competing claims for various parts of the area are unlikely to be resolved within the short term. There are a number of reasons behind these claims. Take, for example, the dispute over the Spratly Islands — an area comprising 45 islands, which has been claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, The Philippines and even Brunei Darussalam.
One could imagine the scale of complications when dealing with such claims. Not to mention China, which forwarded its bid on the islands based on claims dating from the 15th century and the Ming Dynasty. So the potential for conflict has been there all along. For decades, nations around the South China Sea have used the issue of competing claims as a reason to prepare their armies for battle. One interesting point is that in the past two or three years, discussions of the claims have typically been followed by discussions of the US’ so-called Asia pivot. The US position has been affected by its economic problems, to the extent that the two men campaigning to be president last year put forward their differing views about China, either as a friend or foe. This happened simultaneously with the emergence of China’s economic power, which has consequently been accompanied by a massive increase in China’s defence budget and capabilities. The last factor is a crucial, propelling the US to shift its attention to Asia under the aegis of the pivot, which several observers have said was a manifestation of US concerns on China’s growing influence and power. Others, meanwhile, have opined that the pivot was driven by the trauma caused by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour during World War II. Thomas Friedman even described the surprise attack as the origins of American military failure. Developments were taken to a new level when reports surfaced about a potential revitalization of the US’ former military bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay in the Philippines, which some said would be done to bolster the US defence position in Singapore. The most shocking reports have been that US Marines might be posted with US military aircraft to Darwin, Australia, with the mission of natural disaster management. This is absurd, as there has never been such a precedent. As if all this news was not alarming enough, Indonesia has had the privilege to be the recipient of a US grant for a huge number of American-made F-16 jet fighters. This is an unthinkable “kindness”, as previously the Air Force has had extreme difficulties in even getting spare parts for such fighter aircraft. Other reports say that Indonesia will be granted C-130H Hercules aircraft from Australia. Meanwhile, the US Congress’ unanimous approval of the purchase of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters by the Indonesian Military (TNI) has added another level of complication. A statement by the deputy defense minister that the purchase was not done in response to a US offer but instead to bolster the TNI’s defensive posture has stirred up the situation further. Unconsciously or not, can all these reports above be understood as part of the US pivot to Asia? People are starting to wonder why now. Given that the South China Sea has been a source of potential conflict for decades, why has the US decided to act now? Is it due to American fears over Chinese economic growth? One thing for sure, the locus of economic development has shifted, slowly but surely, from the Atlantic to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The question for us to answer is how can the South China Sea disputes benefit Indonesia and South East Asia, economically or in a sense of security?

Regional Security
The shift of the economic growth to Asia Pacific plus threats in the nearby region of South East Asia need serious treatments from all countries in the region. As mentioned above, it was not solely national but also regional responsibility. Speaking of Indonesia, which is the biggest archipelagic country and has the widest waters in the word, water regional security is the key factor when we talk about security. Aside from the fact of having the Malaka Strait with its congested across-countries trade trafic and the vulnerable Southern area as an entry for illegal migrants to Australia, Indonesian waters, generally speaking, is in strategic location. Unfinished international line passage within the north-south framework in which several countries, including America with their east-west passage proposal, have been fighting for their national interests triggered to other vulnerable threats. In relation to judicial aspects and consequence to UNCLOS ratification, Indonesia shall provide international line passage for international ships and aircraft to cross Indonesian territories. To cross the passage, every country, which specifically has ratified the convention, has to bind themselves with the convention. They have to comply to the 19 points to be able to cross the passage. Thus, to monitor the vulnerable South China Sea wholly, we can confidently say that there should be well-established and sustainable cooperation among the countries in the region. People have to prioritize regional security, to be exact, in South East Asia waters, through, one of which, air surveillance.
Addressing air surveillance, it relates to aviation safety. In a very short time, ICAO is increasing Aviation Safety Level, especially the Air Traffic Flow Management System (ATFM). In the near future, instead of being no longer delegated based on the region, ATFM will top-up to “satellite-base” system. There will be a comprehensive management in South China Sea under the Pacific Air Traffic Flow Management System, in which Indonesia will take a part. Thus, it should be taken into consideration on how the National Coordination and Sea Security Board (Bakorkamla) could be enhanced to not only be the coordinator but also the integrated command bureau. It might be very helpful to integrate air patrol over South China Sea with bureaus from other countries on joint operation. In so, generalizing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) with other countries will much simply be easier rather than synchronizing with related bureaus. Hence, the experience bureau could decide on which points the operation will take place and which appointed head-quarter will be. Here, qualified human capital and standardized equipments are very important. They are contributing factors to regional security, especially in South China Sea. Along with the speedy and advanced regional economic growth, security issue has become sensitive as it comes to border disputes which have taken place for such a long time. Economic growth and expansion on natural resources could typically be found in countries with border disputes, one of which is Spratly Islands. Natural gas and minerals, which previously did not take into account, now, have risen new potential conflicts in the region. It would turn into a serious problem when it is not managed in a much crafted manner. Indonesia, actually, has a “potential” source of conflict in Natuna Island which has lucrative natural oil and gas.

Technology development, in a way, contributes to all aspect of life. The economic shift from Atlantic to Indian and Pacific Ocean has put China and India on the bench of developed countries. The rapid economic growth has also waved upon South East Asia. This economic growth, however, might turn to be a security threat for the countries since most of them are bordered with others, especially in South China Sea. Here, we can say that preventive actions are needed, one of which is by conducting joint-military operation. Utilizing UAVs under Air Patrol scheme is a visible solution on regional security considering efficient and resourceful factors.

Jakarta 9 Juli 2013
Chappy Hakim

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One Comment

  1. The shifting in power of global economic into Asia should have been used by country in Asia to strengthen its intrarelationship and promote friendship, not waging conflict nor show off force. But as the saying says, “to maintain peace, one nation must always prepare to war”. I’m indonesian, and i’m proud of my nation

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