In mid-January, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo swore in Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto as the country’s new Air Force chief. As I indicated then, Tjahjanto’s selection had led to speculation not just about his current role, but his ascension to the position of military chief in the future (See: “What Does Indonesia’s New Air Force Chief Pick Mean?”).
Since his appointment, Tjahjanto has been kept busy at home by a number of issues, including a public controversy that erupted in February over the purchase of the AgustaWestland (AW-101) VVIP helicopters. But he has also begun to develop Indonesia’s key relationships abroad as well, as evidenced by his trip to Singapore this week.
The security relationship between Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest state, and Singapore, the subregion’s smallest, has traditionally been quite prickly. Indeed, it took nearly a year for Indonesia to even officially recognize Singapore’s independence from Malaysia following Jakarta’s violent opposition to the creation of Malaysia, known as Konfrontasi. Even in recent years, disagreements have persisted, whether around traditional issues such as air space or non-traditional security matters like the annual haze problem.
But both sides have still maintained a cordial defense relationship that includes the usual components: visits, exchanges, and exercises. They have also made efforts to better manage lingering challenges. One significant recent milestone in that regard has been the conclusion of a landmark maritime boundary treaty over the past three years that came into force in February as the two countries commemorate the 50th anniversary of their relationship.
Tjahjanto’s visit to Singapore this week was another indicator of the importance of the bilateral defense relationship. During his visit, Tjahjanto called on the city-state’s top defense officials including Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen, Chief of Defense Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Perry Lim, and Chief of Air Force Major-General (MG) Mervyn Tan. Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF) said in a statement that the meetings reaffirmed the close ties between Indonesia’s Air Force (TNI-AU) and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). Tjahjanto’s program also included a trip to Paya Lebar Air Base, where he took a familiarization flight on board an RSAF Super Puma helicopter.