An Indonesian parliamentary committee on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the acceptance of 14 unmanned aerial vehicles and the upgrade of three Bell helicopters paid for by the United States under a security assistance scheme.
The Indonesian military will use the ScanEagle drones to conduct maritime surveillance, including in waters off the Natuna islands where Jakarta and Beijing have been engaged in a stand-off over fishing rights, the Defense Ministry said.
"We approved the government's receipt of grants from the United States in the form of 14 ScanEagle UAV units and the upgrade of three Bell 412 helicopters," Meutya Hafid, chairwoman of the House of Representatives' committee on defense and foreign affairs, told reporters.
Acceptance of any foreign military grant requires the approval of the parliament's defense committee, according to a 2013 Defense Ministry regulation.
"These ScanEagle drones will be used for surveillance, including in Natuna. The Indonesian Navy will definitely use it," Deputy Defense Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono told reporters.
Tensions between Indonesia and China over maritime rights off the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea were raised in January after Chinese fishing boats and coast guard ships entered waters in Jakarta's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Beijing claims nearly all of the contested South China Sea, a waterway through which about U.S. $5 trillion of shipping trade passes each year. Beijing says the waters off Indonesia's Natuna islands are part of traditional fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen.
The security assistance accepted Wednesday is authorized under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, and is part of a U.S. $47.9 million package of ScanEagle drones announced last year to Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The U.S. assistance package for Indonesia is valued at $28.3 million for the drones and $6.3 million for the upgrade of the Bell 412 helicopters, the Defense Ministry said.
The ScanEagle, made by Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of the U.S. aircraft maker Boeing, can operate above 15,000 feet (about 4,572 meters) and has a flight endurance of up to 20 hours, according to Boeing.
Indonesia does not operate any ScanEagle drones, but last year acquired the CH-4, a dedicated unmanned combat aerial vehicle made by China. The drone was showcased at an event marking the Indonesian military's 74th anniversary in October.
Indonesia plans to buy a total of six CH-4 drones within the next few years, the military has said.
Jakarta is developing its own medium-altitude long-endurance drone called the Black Eagle, with a prototype released last year.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, whose government has embarked on a drive to modernize its military, urged the country's arms makers to build advanced unmanned aerial vehicles.
"We need to keep up with technological advances," Jokowi said in a speech at a Defense Ministry's leadership meeting.
"[W]e have seen that armed drones are capable of destroying armored vehicles from near and far with precision," he said. "The TNI (Indonesian military) must take bold action by starting to build those things."
No strings attached
Moeldoko, Jokowi's chief of staff, said the U.S. aid package had nothing to do with Indonesia's plan to purchase fighter jets from Russia.
"We have a cooperation scheme. It's nothing new. There are no strings attached," Moeldoko told reporters.
In 2018, Indonesia agreed to purchase 11 Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets from Russia, valued at $1.14 billion. Russia agreed in return to buy Indonesian commodities valued at $570 million.
But the deal has been up in the air after U.S. President Donald Trump in August 2017 signed the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which could apply sanctions against entities doing business with Russia.
When asked about the progress on the Sukhoi purchase, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said last week: "God willing. Let's pray for it."
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
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