Eurasia defence news

Indonesia picks France for its new sub ambitions

Indonesia plans to acquire France’s Scorpene-class submarines in a move away from refurbishing its old German-built boats

By GABRIEL HONRADA

Indonesia’s Navy has announced plans to acquire France’s Scorpene-class submarines. Formalizing a deal expected to jettison South Korea as Jakarta’s primary submarine technology partner.

Scorpene-class subs are jointly built by French shipbuilder Naval Group and Spain’s Navantia. It feature a modular design that can carry a large payload at reduced manning and lifecycle costs.

The diesel-propelled boats measure 66 meters to 82 meters in length. They displace 2,000 tons, carry a crew of 25 to 31 members and feature the SUBTICS Combat Management System.

On February 10, Indonesia’s PT PAL and France’s Naval Group signed a preliminary agreement to collaborate on the construction of two Scorpene submarines and to establish a joint research and development facility in Indonesia.

Both sides aim to finalize a contract by mid-2022 to facilitate the integration of weapons and systems onboard the submarines and the provision of training for operation, construction and sustainment with technology transfer in mind.

The Indonesian Cakra class submarine KRI Nanggala 402 docking at the naval base in Surabaya before its April 2021 disaster. Photo: Handout / Indonesia Military / AFP

The contract may also provide a lead-in for the construction of two more Scorpene subs in Indonesia

That’s likely bad news for Seoul. On February 21, South Korea’s Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Kim Jung-soo opened the sensitive topic of Indonesia’s order for a second batch of submarines from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME).

The project to deliver three DSME subs to Indonesia has been in limbo for three years. Indonesia has refused to make the down payment necessary for deliveries to officially begin.

Indonesia is apparently considering canceling the contract in order to reduce defense expenditures amid expectations of shrinking budgets in coming years. The 2021 loss of the KRI Nanggala submarine may have served as an impetus for Indonesia to acquire new-build subs over refurbishing their older German-built, South Korean-refurbished Type 209 units.

 

Preserving strategic independence

France has sold Scorpene subs and Rafale jets to India, and has sold Rafales to Indonesia as well. These arms sales may reflect converging interests between these three countries.

Both France and India harbor fears of becoming subordinate partners within a US-led security architecture. Indonesia has long maintained an independent foreign policy. It has built its defense capabilities without becoming overly reliant on one source.

As such, Indonesia’s purchase of Scorpene subs and Rafale jets may form yet another concrete focal point in an emerging trilateral defense relationship between Indonesia, France and India.

These countries all share democratic principles. Yet they are keen on preserving their strategic independence and national interests without being overly reliant on the US.

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