Indonesia to Host US for Largest-Ever Army Joint Training

Ronna Nirmala and Ahmad Syamsudin
Indonesia to Host US for Largest-Ever Army Joint Training U.S. Army personnel arrive at the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport in Palembang, Indonesia, ahead of the two-week Garuda Shield 15 joint exercise, July 24, 2021.
Courtesy of the Indonesian Army Information Center

Indonesia and the United States are set to hold the largest-ever joint-training between their armies, as more than 4,500 soldiers converge on Indonesian islands for the first live Garuda Shield exercise since 2019, officials said.

Nearly 2,250 U.S. Army troops have arrived in Indonesia to take part in the exercise, which will unfold from Aug. 1 to 14 in South Sumatra, East Kalimantan and North Sulawesi provinces, Indonesian Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Tatang Subarna said. The American soldiers will join a similar number of Indonesian Army personnel for field training, live fire, medical and flight exercises.

“This will be the first time for us to have so many U.S. women and men in uniform in Indonesia,” Army chief Gen. Andika Perkasa said during a video call with Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific.

“We look forward to giving our men and women in the army some exposure with your soldiers,” Andika told Flynn.

Flynn said he was excited about Garuda Shield 15.

“This exposure to your team, your leaders and your soldiers I think will be really good,” he told Andika.

The coronavirus outbreak disrupted the live iteration of Garuda Shield in 2020, but the 2021 edition will take place live although Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country is reeling from a new wave of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.  

The Indonesian Army said the U.S. soldiers have been subjected to strict health protocols to prevent the spread of the virus, including a five-day quarantine upon arrival.

The previous live-training iteration of Garuda Shield, in 2019, involved nearly 1,400 soldiers, half of whom were from the United States. Last year’s sessions, which were held virtually because of the global pandemic, emphasized military decision-making exercises, the Indonesian military said.

Garuda Shield focuses on strengthening bilateral relationships and demonstrating “U.S. resolve to support the security interests of friends and allies in the region,” the Pentagon said.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who traveled to neighboring Singapore, reaffirmed U.S. commitments to the region. Austin is the first cabinet-level official from the Biden administration to visit Southeast Asia, where rival superpowers are vying for influence.

“I’ve come to Southeast Asia to deepen America’s bonds with the allies and partners on whom our common security depends. Our network of alliances and friendships is an unparalleled strategic asset. And I never take an ally for granted,” Austin said in prepared remarks delivered at the 40th International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture.

“[E]ven in times of competition, our enduring ties in Southeast Asia are bigger than just geopolitics,” he said. “[W]e are not asking countries in the region to choose between the United States and China. In fact, many of our partnerships in the region are older than the People’s Republic of China itself.”

From Singapore, the American defense chief will go to Hanoi before concluding his first tour of the region in Manila on Friday.

‘Important Indo-Pacific partner’

Analysts said the involvement of the U.S. soldiers in the exercise showed that Washington was serious about its engagement with Indonesia as a strategic partner in the region, amid growing concerns about China.

“In recent years the United States has often conducted various exercises with countries in the region including Japan, Australia, and Indonesia,” Al Araf, a senior researcher at Jakarta-based human rights watchdog Imparsial, told BenarNews.

“This can’t be separated from the issue of the South China Sea, where China’s aggressiveness has become a concern and prompted the United States to prepare for the worst possibility – a war – in the region,” he said.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam – ASEAN members – and Taiwan have their own territorial claims.

Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to territorial disputes over the waterway, but Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the maritime region that overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

Natalie Sambhi, executive director of Verve Research, an independent think-tank in Australia, said the United States and Indonesia were determined to keep relations close despite the ongoing pandemic.

“Washington sees Jakarta as an important Indo-Pacific partner as strategic competition with China becomes increasingly intense. Jakarta sees Washington as a critical source of military training, education and equipment, particularly for the army,” she told BenarNews.

“After a year of subdued international engagement due to COVID-19, the U.S. appears keen to secure cooperation with Indonesia and to signal its ongoing commitment to the region,” she said.

The Indonesian Army, for its part, needs to be prepared for potential future warfare, which could be more amphibious or involve joint operations with foreign partners, Sambhi said.

“This means not just learning what it can from exercises, but developing a truly joint force, working closely and more effectively with the Indonesian Navy and Air Force,” she said.

In June, Indonesian and U.S. Air Force personnel conducted a two-week joint combat exercise involving F-16 fighter jets in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province on Sumatra Island.

An Indonesian health worker performs a COVID-19 test on a U.S. soldier in Palembang, South Sumatra, July 24, 2021. [Courtesy of the Indonesian Army Information Center]

Training centers

The upcoming exercise in South Sumatra province will be held at the new Combat Training Center in Baturaja, which was launched in December 2020. The army said the center, covering an area of nearly 3,000 acres, is equipped with combat training facilities meeting international standards.

The two nations also are building a U.S. $3.5 million (50.7 billion rupiahs) Coast Guard training center on Batam, an industrial and transport hub at the south end of the South China Sea. Officials said it was designed to boost Jakarta’s capacity to fight domestic and transnational crime.

The training center is a collaborative effort between Indonesian Coast Guard (Bakamla), which was established in 2014; the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office and the U.S. Department of Defense.

No U.S. troops will be stationed there, Bakamla said.

In 2018, the U.S. helped Indonesia build a maritime training center at the Ambon Navy Base in the eastern province of Maluku.

“I think what you are trying to build is something that is equivalent to the combat training centers we have in Europe, the states and also the ones we will build later in the Pacific region,” said Flynn, the U.S. Army commander in the Pacific.

Beni Sukadis, a senior military researcher at Marapi Consulting and Advisory, said the joint exercise was important for building trust between the two countries.

“This is good for wider bilateral relations. We also hope that this exercise will improve the capacity of Indonesian soldiers,” he told BenarNews.


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Jul 29, 2021 11:09 AM

You're a great Warrior Mr. FLYNN. THANK YOU for your severe to keep the world prepared and safe. We need more like yourself👍💚

Jul 29, 2021 11:11 AM

Most gracious Mr. FLYNN for Helping the world.