In recent years, Indonesia and the Gulf States have steadily strengthened their defense ties. Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto made state visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this year and Bahrain last year to discuss ways to strengthen military partnerships, which have included arms trade, exchanges of officers and personnel, and cooperation in the military Defense industry included science and technology.
Qatar is another Gulf state with which Indonesia’s military ties have expanded in recent years, in tandem with growing political, economic and socio-cultural cooperation between the two nations.
The latest development took place last month when the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) reportedly bought a fleet of used Qatari Dassault Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets, which were retired from service after the government in Doha bought replacements. Despite interest from France and Bulgaria in buying the aircraft, Qatar chose Indonesia as the buyer. It is reported that Indonesia will use these used Mirage 2000-5 fighters as a training and transitional platform.
Although the deal has not yet been confirmed, Naser Al Tamimi, a UK-based Asia and Middle East relations analyst, told The Diplomat that Doha’s move was based on the fact that Jakarta had a higher bid than the other two countries had made. a bid that reportedly exceeded $700 million. Meanwhile, Mehran Kemrava, a professor at Qatar’s Georgetown University, told The Diplomat that the Qatari government’s decision is related to Qatar’s hedging policy, which has sought to diversify its relationships with as many stakeholders as possible. “Since it already has extensive security cooperation with France and Bulgaria, choosing Indonesia would add to its strategy,” Kemrava said.
Jakarta’s military security ties with Doha have been gradually expanding for some time, though modest compared to Indonesia’s defense ties with other Gulf countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
So far, most engagements have focused on visits and exchanges. For example, in 2014, the General Command of the Qatari Armed Forces participated in hosting the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Indonesia and attended the Indo-Defense Forum in Jakarta, where the two countries discussed ways to expand their military and security cooperation.
Aside from visits related to military security, Indonesia has been interested in expanding its arms exports to Qatar. Although exact dates are not available, Indonesian-made light tanks and military weapons are popular in Qatar. The only transaction that was widely reported was Qatar’s planned purchase in 2009 of a military aircraft, the CN-235, manufactured by Indonesian company PT Dirgantara Indonesia. In addition, Qatar has equipment for its armed forces from PT Sritex, Indonesia leading textile and clothing manufacturer.
All of these transactions were fueled by Indonesia’s efforts to promote its military products across the Middle East. In 2016, then-Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu invited Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah to this year’s Indonesian Defense Exhibition in Jakarta, where they discussed the possibility of cooperation in arms production. After that, the Indonesian government also invited delegations from Qatar to participate in Trade Expo Indonesia 2016, which was set up to promote Indonesian military equipment.
These invitations have prompted Qatari policymakers to start buying military products from Indonesia. In fact, following the events, the government in Doha has expressed an interest in considering military equipment manufactured by three Indonesian state-owned companies, namely PT Pindad, PT Dirgantara Indonesia and PT PAL, which already supply military products to other Gulf countries.
As Qatar has been working to improve its defense capability, Indonesia, as an emerging market player, seems to be one of the options due to its competitive prices.
Doha’s hedging strategy appears to have been welcomed by Indonesia.
Between 2015 and 2020, the Indonesian government appointed Muhammad Basri Sidehabi, a former Air Marshal, as Indonesian Ambassador to Qatar. During Sidehabi’s tenure, Indonesia attempted to strengthen its military security ties with Qatar. On one occasion, in 2017, he invited Hamad Mohammed Al Marri, the head of the Center for Strategic Studies of the Armed Forces of Qatar, to visit Indonesia to learn more about Indonesia’s military industry and to attend this year’s Indo-Defense Forum attend Jakarta. In his meetings with Qatari officials, Sidehabi often gave presentations on the development of Indonesia’s defense equipment.
The two sides also signed an agreement for cooperation between the Indonesian National Police and the Qatari Police, which focuses on fighting juvenile delinquency and human trafficking and building capacity among security officials. In addition, Defense Minister Prabowo met separately with the Qatari Ambassador to Indonesia in 2020 and earlier this year with the Qatari Defense Attache to discuss ways to advance Indonesian-Qatarian military security cooperation to promote weapons made in Indonesia.
Those meetings seemed to bear fruit in November 2021 when Barzan Holding, the strategic investment and procurement arm of Qatar’s Defense Ministry, announced its commitment to work with Pindad on weapons procurement, technology transfer and human resource development. Also in the same year, a representative and adviser to Barzan, Christopher Ott, was hired by Jakarta to facilitate Indonesia’s arms sales to the US
Although Qatar is not a global security actor, circumstances have also pressured Indonesia to diversify its military security cooperation. According to Jakarta, the declining role of the United States in Southeast Asia and China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea show the need to find non-traditional security partners, and Qatar appears to be an alternative.
For Indonesia, therefore, cooperation with Qatar in the defense sector serves both to secure markets for its emerging defense industry and to contribute to its efforts to seek new partners outside its traditional security circles.
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