The Defense Ministry insists its purchase of surveillance drones was based purely on strategic defense considerations and should not be politicized, following allegations that the aircraft could come from Israel.
Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, the deputy defense minister, said on Tuesday that only the technology was important, even if it came from a country with which Jakarta had no diplomatic relations.
“What’s being purchased is the technology. All we’re looking for in purchasing these drones is the technology,” he said.
“By buying this technology, we’re not making any expressed or implied political ties or commitments [to Israel].”
The planned purchase was criticized by the House of Representatives after it was revealed that the government would purchase the drones from a private Philippine contractor.
Given that the Philippines does not produce such equipment, there has been speculation that the aircraft were initially produced in Israel.
Sjafrie acknowledged the possibility that the contractor, Kital Philippines, may have obtained the drones from Israel, but he insisted that purchasing them carried no diplomatic weight as far as Indonesia’s stance toward the Middle Eastern nation went.
He added that the plan had been discussed since 2004 and a contract signed two years later.
“The funding was allocated in loans from the 2004-2009 budget. We drew up the plan in 2004 and 2005 and signed the contract in 2006,” he said.
“At the time, this kind of technology was very rare. All we wanted was state-of-the-art technology. We never had any political considerations.”
Sjafrie said that the first of an undisclosed number of aircraft, purchased for a total of $16 million, would be sent to Indonesia sometime this year, pending further tests.
He added that although the domestic defense industry was beginning to develop advanced aircraft along these lines, the technology was still far behind what was already available for purchase elsewhere.
He also said the purchase would ultimately benefit those domestic players because of the transfer of technology it would offer them.
Legislators at the House previously pointed out that the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) was capable of producing a small plane equipped with image-recording devices.
They also said that if the imported drones really did come from Israel, the lack of formal trade and diplomatic relations between Jakarta and Tel Aviv meant after-sales issues such as technology transfers or the provision of spare parts would be complicated.
Legislators have also recently savaged a plan by the Defense Ministry to purchase 100 secondhand Leopard battle tanks from the Netherlands military at a cost of $600 million.
They have argued that the vehicles are unsuited to Indonesia’s terrain, expressing concern that the deal would again sideline domestic players and pointing out that local armorer Pindad was already producing a range of smaller, more versatile tanks and armored vehicles.