Last month, the United States and Indonesia held the latest iteration of their bilateral air force exercise. Though the interaction was just one of several within the U.S.-Indonesia defense relationship, it nonetheless highlighted ongoing efforts by both sides to continue to advance ties into 2019.
As I have noted before in these pages, the United States and Indonesia share a defense relationship that has included components such as visits, exchanges, and regular exercises, with previous major restrictions in place in the 1990s largely lifted under the George W. Bush administration. Despite some ongoing challenges, both sides have continued advancing security ties in recent years, including this year as both sides commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations.
One of the manifestations of the defense relationship is Cope West, a bilateral tactical fighter aircraft exercise involving the U.S. and Indonesian Air Forces. Cope West is designed to advance interoperability and build upon already established partnerships between U.S. military forces and Indonesian air forces, with the end goal of enhancing both sides’ combat capabilities and unit readiness.
Last month, this aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of Cope West. Per the U.S. Air Force, during this year, which was the seventh iteration of the exercise, approximately 110 U.S. service members from the 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, and 150 Indonesian service members participated in this year’s iteration of the exercise.
The exercise took place over a period of two weeks. During that time, according to the U.S. Air Force, the two services flew a combined total of 130 sorties, which gave them the opportunity to exchange knowledge and tactics in modern air combat warfare during close air support training and air-to-air fighter training. They also held eight subject-matter expert exchanges occurred across various career fields.
Reflecting on the exercise during the closing ceremony, held at Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado, Indonesia on June 28, both commanders – Ryan Okahara, the Hawaii Air National Guard Commander, and Widyargo Ikoputra, the Iswahjudi Air Force Base Commander, acknowledged that Cope West was both an important effort to build interoperability as well as to tangibly advance the U.S.-Indonesia strategic partnership, especially as both countries commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between them.
Okahara also made reference to the fact that both sides would be working toward potentially increasing the complexity of the exercise next year, with a view to taking advantage of other developments in U.S.-Indonesia defense ties, including F-16 upgrades and other enhancements that Jakarta will receive. As the two countries begin to make preparations for the next exercise, it will be interesting to see how these developments play into how collaboration is actually manifested in practice.