Nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually through the highly contested region of the the South China Sea. China lays claim to most of the area, but there are conflicting claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
According to meeting transcripts provided to IHS Jane, the Indonesian military is set to take steps to assert its own territorial claims.
The Indonesian Air Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – Angkatan Udara, or TNI-AU) will station four special forces units, known as the Korps Pasukan Khas (PASKHAS), on Pulau Natuna Besar island in the South China Sea.
These units will be equipped with an air defense system known as the Oerlikon Skyshield. It features a 35mm multirole cannon that can fire 1,000 rounds per minute, as well as precision-guided projectiles that can take down aircraft.
While funding will only be granted for one Skyshield system at present, the military expressed an interest in acquiring more in the future.
The transcripts also reveal Jakarta’s plan to beef up its squadron at Ranai air base. Additional hangars are needed to house eight fighters that TNI-AU intends to purchase, including the Su-27, Su-30 or F-16, and a small drone fleet.
At a cost of $91 million, the upgrades will, if approved, be complete by 2019.
The proposals come as the United States steps up efforts to encourage Pacific allies to play a more active role in countering China’s growth. Washington is currently engaged in Balikatan, a massive joint military exercise with the Philippines, sending a clear message to Beijing.
"Looking at the features of Balikatan – the mobile missile-launchers, the fighter planes – that is an indication that the alliance is being geared for territorial defense," said Rene de Castro, an international studies professor at the De La Salle University, according to Defense News.
The US has objected to Beijing’s construction of artificial islands on sensitive ecological habitats in the Spratly archipelago. While China maintains it has every right to build within its own territory and that its land reclamation projects are primarily meant for humanitarian purposes, the US has called it a violation of international law.
Washington has accused Beijing of attempting to establish an air defense zone in the South China Sea, but has not criticized its ally for placing its own air defense systems in the area.