(This article has been published in Jakarta Post Newspaper on 2014)
The opening of Indonesian Defense Expo 2014 marked by all the usual military trade show hoopla: men and woman in formal attire and those who are from military are mingling together, exchanging information, vying and trying to close multi millions dollar deals.
Amidst the crowd, the freshly inaugurated President Joko Widodo or Jokowi as populary called, christened the newly made AFV panser kanon (Armored Fighting Vehicle armed with cannon), made by Bandung based strategic state owned company (BUMNIS) PT Pindad. Touted as a proof that homegrown defense industry has found its foothold, it also seems fits with the berdikari (self help) principle, one of the campaign jargon so eagerly defended by his PDI Perjuangan party. It also helps bury his blunder on Presidential candidate debate, where his official stance is against the Leopard 2 A4 Main Battle Tank procurement, which he said is too heavy and incompatible with roads and bridges in Indonesia. His opinion since then has been broken by the Army, which conducts Leopard 2A4 tour eagerly across Java, from Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Semarang, Cirebon, and then Jakarta without real damage to roads and bridges.
As good as the panser kanon, there are some serious flaws both in the design and in the land defense industrial capabilities now spearheaded by PT Pindad (Perusahaan Industri Angkatan Darat – state owned defense company that traces its root to Army establishment). First, although looks menacing, nobody in the defense circle still believes in 90mm low pressure cannon as a main armament. A 1960’s development, 90mm low pressure and low velocity gun now has been superseded by two kinds of weapons: high pressure larger caliber gun and smaller, but rapid firing cannon.
Panser kanon, or popularly known as tank destroyer/ mobile gun system class now employs larger gun that traditionally found installed on Main Battle Tanks. The prime example of this class are Centauro 1B now in service with Italian Army with 105mm gun (the Oman example even using 120mm gun), and Stryker Mobile Gun System, also with 105mm gun M68, descendants of British Royal Ordnance L7 gun which are the mainstay of Main Battle Tanks in the 1970s. The larger gun the better since tank destroyer doctrine emphasizes on firepower and agility to destroy Main Battle Tank. Direct impact from 90mm low pressure gun will not even scratch the skin of a Main Battle Tank, as has been proven by the South Africans in the 1980’s border war against Angola. The turret on panser kanon installed sans fire control stabilization systems, which helps in stabilizing the gun when on the move, enabling fire on the move maneuver in a running battle. The panser kanon has to stop, its commander calculating some firing solution, and starting the firing sequence before pressing the button to fire, all while the enemy has the ability to evade and shoot back while on the move, making panser kanon the perfect sitting duck.
Against the AFV with small, rapid fire cannon the panser kanon also doesn’t have any chance. Rapid firing cannon such as Rheinmetall 202 20mm installed on Marder 1A3 or M242 Bushmaster on American M2 Bradley AIFV firing 25mm NATO standard shells are the current trend on the AFV development, offering lighter load and efficient penetration capabilities. M242 Bushmaster even has proven its mettle, destroying Iraqi T-72M1 Main Battle Tanks in Gulf War 2. 90mm low pressure gun are longer to reload, and surely more expensive, and lest we forgot, is more prone to collateral damage in urban fighting. Rapid firing cannon are more accurate, and even a trained gunner can produce a pinpoint accuracy in a target rich environment. Learning from our past military operations against small scale insurgency, rapid firing cannon is suitable for that kind of mission.
The second flaw can be traced to the Pindad capabilities. Lauded as a regional player, Pindad still has a lot to learn from another regional military product manufacturer such as Singapore Technologies Kinetics. Although Pindad now can add Anoa infantry carrier and panser kanon to its title belt, much of the major components that made Anoa and panser kanon are still imported. Up until now, Indonesia doesn’t have the capabilities to develop armor grade steel and has to rely on imported materials, an irony considering that Indonesia is a player in global steel industry with Posco-Krakatau Steel factory. Anoa engine and transmission systems are still imported, and in the case of panser kanon, its CSE Mk III turret and gun systems are still bought from CMI Defense Belgium. In the event of arms embargo, as have been the case in the past, all of our Anoas and panser kanons fleets wouldn’t be operational without spare parts in no time. What Pindad has done is building a hull, and mating it with an existing turret. This is not an acceptable and economical way, since Pindad still has to fork out some money in buying the turret, and the end result will be pricier compared to buying foreign made armors.
What Jokowi has to do with his Kabinet Kerja is coordinating a through and thorough effort in building national defense capabilities. On a positive note, Indonesia has some serious potential, scattered across many state owned and civilian companies. Krakatau Steel can be pushed to produce armor grade steels to make hulls and gun barrel, as long as it meets economies of scale in production. PT LEN, which claimed to be able to make combat management systems for Navy ship surely can be ordered to research and create solutions in armored fighting vehicle fire control systems, including optics, laser rangefinder, and thermal cameras. Pindad ammunition factory, which itself has aligned with Rheinmetall/ Denel Munition company, will start producing artillery munitions in the near future. Indonesian higher education, which now has its own ministry, can conduct its research aligning with military and defense needs. The road to berdikari is a long and winding road, and can be quite challenging considering Indonesian habit of expecting instant result. Jokowi still have full 5 years ahead to accomplish this and leaving a lasting legacy in building Indonesian defense capabilities.