Information Sharing and Challenges for Indonesian Navy

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and Information Sharing (IS) are the new mantras for the navies around the world. At the recent 4th International Maritime Security Symposium (IMSS) held by Indonesian navy (TNI AL) both issues were discussed at length and participants discussed how other navies are cooperating to monitor maritime security situation within their areas of interest. Likewise, the state of information sharing by the TNI AL was the focus of attention and it is quite safe to conclude that the TNI AL is more of a “follower rather than a leader” in information sharing. This is attributed to at least four reasons.

First, there are weaknesses in Indonesia’s MDA and IS due to lack of understanding of new and emerging technologies such as Internet of Thing (IoT) which can potentially transform strategic/tactical naval operations. Further, there is little familiarity on the subject among policy planners in the TNI AL.

Second, is about weak intelligence gathering infrastructure. To be capable in information sharing, several assets should be in place which unfortunately the TNI AL does not possess. In 2011, the US government helped set up the Integrated Maritime Surveillance System (IMSS) under a US$57 million military assistance programme. The IMSS includes 18 coastal surveillance posts, 11 Automatic Identification System (AIS) radars and 4 command centers located in Batam, Manado, Jakarta and Surabaya. The facilities can cover 1,205 km of Strait of Malacca coastline and 1,285 km of Sulawesi Island’s.

The Indonesia Maritime Security Board (MSB) or Bakamla (BadanKeamananLaut), the country’s coast guard in the making and the sister institution of TNI AL, had a program to fill in the gap. Currently it manages two satellite ground stations in Bangka Belitung and Bitung (North Sulawesi province). It also operates 20 bases –both stationary and mobile– constructed across the archipelago. All of the facilities are equipped with electronic devices to read distress signal through global maritime distress safety system/GMDSS and ship identification information via automatic identification system/AIS. Other vessel tracking systems are also in place. Unfortunately, electronic intelligence (ELINT) facilities have limitations and these are only able to read the AIS. The MSB is eager to expand its capacity and needs various equipment to back up MDA.

Third, is about human resources. According to available data, TNI AL current strength is 70,797 personnel which is much below the Indonesia Army (TNI AD) that has 347,529 personnel. The Indonesia Air Force or TNI AU only adds up to 37,830 personnel. This wide disparity is a reflection of Indonesia’s defense architecture wherein land force is more important than sea and air. This is notwithstanding the fact that Indonesia is an archipelagic state. Theoretically with such a physical characteristic the navy and the air force must be on top; or at least the gap among them is not that big.

Fourth is lack of funding. This is an acute problem accross Indonesia’s administrative machinery, not merely for the TNI AL. It impacts maritime patrolling, and affects ship maintenance among others. For the 2021 budget, TNI AL is set to receive Rp3.35 trillion but it will possibly get lower due to the ongoing heavy fiscal burdens faced by the government. In this pandemic time the lack of funding is worsening and its impact to TNI AL is enormous. The current economic conditions do not provides room for investments in information sharing activities that requires investments in technology.

Whatever the shortage it faces, TNI AL has been engaging in information sharing activities since the inauguration of Malacca Strait Patrol in 2004. That time TNI AL, Royal Malaysia Navy (RMN), Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) had used telephone and email for sharing information required in their coordinated patrol deployment for sea-lanes of communication (SLOC) security. Later, this mechanism was upgraded to the Malacca Strait Patrol Information System (MSP-IS).

With the establishment of Information Fusion Centre in 2009, the MSP info sharing process was subsequently incorporated into the Malacca Strait Patrol Information Sharing portal which has been replaced by a new Information Fusion Centre Real-time Information Sharing System (IRIS). TNI AL has assigned an International Liaison Officer to IFC since 2011.

Last but not least, Indonesia and India have also been engaging in a series of bilateral naval exercise that was kicked off in 2009. These engagements also include information sharing. Both navies are currently carrying out exercises on the Sunda Strait. The TNI AL and Indian Navy cooperation has the [potential to contribute to the security in the Indo-Pacific region in which both countries are having a pivotal position.

Mr. Siswanto Rusdi is director of National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), an independent think tank in Jakarta.

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