Forces: Australia Versus Indonesia

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September 15, 2005

Australia faces some military threats. The most immediate of f these is from Indonesia, often due to the fact that these two countries have a dispute over a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea. Australia also has a 1,850-kilometer wide maritime identification zone that has raised some hackles among its neighbors.

The major threat to Australian interests would be maritime. Australia, as an island nation (albeit a large one), that relies on maritime trade. This is the same reliance faced by the United Kingdom,  and Japan. The major potential opponent is Indonesia. While  conflicting claims in the Timor Sea could result in a war, a flash point that is just as likely is the newly (since 2002) independent nation of East Timor, where an Australian-led peacekeeping force stopped violence by militias supported by the Indonesian military. The UN peacekeeping force has been withdrawn as of May, 2005.

A conflict over the maritime boundaries would involve naval and air forces. In both areas, Australia has a significant advantage over Indonesia in terms of quality, and to a lesser, extent, quantity. The Australian Navy boasts fourteen frigates (six Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates that have been modernized to carry SM-2 and Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles and eight Anzac-class frigates, which will be modernized to carry Evolved Sea Sparrows and Harpoons). These frigates are all modern designs, and are manned by superbly-trained crews. Indonesia has thirteen frigates, only six of which, the Ahmed Yani-class ships, are reasonably modern (carrying Sea Cat surface-to-air missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles). The other seven Indonesian frigates (three Tribal-class frigates and four Claude Jones-class frigates), are only armed with guns, and do not have modern fire-control systems. Indonesia also has four light frigates (armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles), and sixteen Parchim I-class corvettes. In terms of submarines, Indonesia has two Type 209-class submarines, but Australia has six Collins-class vessels. The Australian submariners have trained against American carrier battle groups and have often torpedoed the carriers in exercises. 

The air forces are also miles apart primarily in quality. Australia has 32 F-111C/G (essentially the same as the FB-111) and 71 AF/A-18A/B Hornets in the inventory. These aircraft are backed by airborne early warning aircraft (four to seven modified Boeing 737s carrying a phased-array radar) and tankers (modified 707s). The RAAFs combat aircraft carry some of the latest weapons, including laser-guided bombs and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Contrast that to Indonesias air force, which primarily operates the older F-5 fighter and A-4 attack plane. Its modern fighter force consists of 16 F-16A, 2 Su-27SK, and 2 Su-30MK fighters, plus 16 Hawk 209 light attack jets. Again, Australia has more combat aircraft, which are better. Australian pilots have much more training than the Indonesian pilots, which makes the gap in capabilities even wider in Australias favor.

Should a conflict over East Timor erupt, the relative armies would come into play. Australia will be in the position of relying on the quality of its forces to overcome the quantitative advantage Indonesia has. The Indonesian army (196,000) is nearly four times the size of the entire Australian Defense Force (53,000). The Australian Army uses the Leopard main battle tank, to be replaced by the M1A2 Abrams. Fighting and winning when outnumbered is something the Australians have done in the past. In 1951 a battalion of Australian troops assisted a Canadian infantry battalion and an American tank company in defeating a Chinese division at the Battle of Kapyong. In 1966, two Australian infantry platoons defeated a Viet Cong battalion in the Battle of Long Tan. 

Indonesias military has much less experience and gets very little pay, so often Indonesian soldiers have been setting up roadblocks and shaking down drivers. The Indonesian militarys combat experience in dealing with the Aceh and East Timor (often against civilians) will not help much against the well-trained Australian Army. Australia is more than capable of taking care of itself in a fight with Indonesia. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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