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ABRI Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesia's four armed services, collectively termed the Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia [ABRI - Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia], consist of the three military services--the army, navy, and air force--and the police. The effort to forge a united and coherent nation that could accommodate the natural diversity of peoples in the Indonesian archipelago has always been a central theme in the country's history. ABRI plays a role in national society that is perhaps unique in the world. The military establishment in the early 1990s was involved in many affairs of state that elsewhere were not normally associated with military forces and acknowledged as the dominant political institution in the country. The armed forces establishment, led by the dominant branch, the army, has been the country's premier institution since 1966 when, in its own view, it answered the summons of the people and moved to the center stage of national life. Comprising the three military services and the police, the armed forces operated according to dwifungsi, or dual function, a doctrine of their own evolution, under which they undertook a double role as both defenders of the nation and as a social-political force in national development.

To fully understand the role of the armed forces in contemporary Indonesian society, one must understand the absolute priority the government and the military leadership has placed, from the beginning of the New Order, on the importance of internal security to the achievement of national stability. The New Order government, whose military leaders played an important role in 1965 in crushing what was officially described as a communist coup attempt, believed that threats to internal stability were the greatest threats to national security. Having experienced two attempted coups, supposedly communist-inspired, a number of regional separatist struggles, and instability created by radical religious movements, the government had little tolerance for public disorder.

Since the beginning of Suharto's rise to power in 1965, the armed forces accepted and supported the foundation of his regime, namely, the belief that economic and social development was the nation's first priority and that social and political stability was absolutely essential if that goal were to be achieved. The primary mission of the armed forces has therefore been to maintain internal stability. The maintenance of internal security was considered an integral part of national defense itself. Indonesian doctrine considers national defense within the broader context of "national resilience," a concept that stresses the importance of the ideological, political, economic, social, and military strength of the nation. Like dwifungsi, this concept has also legitimized activities of the armed forces in areas not ordinarily considered belonging to the military sphere.

The role of the separate armed services has not changed since 1969, when the heads of the army, navy, and air force were reduced to chiefs of staff. Operational control of almost all their military units was vested in the commander in chief, reducing the headquarters of each military service to the status of administrative organs. Only the police chief continued to exercise operational control over his own personnel.

Communist victories in South Vietnam and Cambodia prompted national authorities to reconsider both the external threat the nation faced and how best to meet it. Consequently, the new minister of defense and security, General Mohammad Jusuf, directed a major upgrading of armed forces military capabilities. This upgrade included increased training and procurement of sufficient equipment and personnel to establish a core of some 100 fully ready combat battalions. Under Jusuf, the armed forces initiated extensive retraining and reorganization programs that culminated in a major reorganization of the armed forces in 1985.

Largely retained intact when split off from HANKAM in 1985, the ABRI staff and its functions remained directly subordinate to the commander in chief, who remained, in turn, directly responsible to the president, also the supreme commander of the armed forces. Under the commander in chief, there was a provision for a deputy, a position that in 1992 was not filled. There were two ABRI chiefs of staff, one for the general staff and one for social-political affairs. The inspector general and the assistant for plans and budget, as well as a number of agencies and institutes, remained directly under the commander in chief. The ABRI chief of general staff directed assistants for communications/electronics, intelligence, logistics, operations, personnel, public security affairs, and territorial affairs, the chief of staff for social-political affairs directed the armed forces' dwifungsi operations in the civilian sector of the government through assistants for nonmilitary workers' affairs and for social-political affairs. The ABRI joint staff supported the headquarters of each of the four services. Staff personnel were drawn from all four services. Police officers served only in positions related to internal security.


The 1985 reorganization also made significant changes in the armed forces chain of command. The four multiservice Regional Defense Commands (Kowilhans) and the National Strategic Command (KOSTRANAS) were eliminated from the defense structure, establishing the Military Regional Command (KODAM), or area command, as the key organization for strategic, tactical, and territorial operations for all services. The chain of command flowed directly from the ABRI commander in chief to the ten KODAM commanders, and then to subordinate army territorial commands. The commander in chief exercises control over most of the combat elements of the army, navy, and air force through the ten army KODAMs, the two air force KO-OPs, and the two navy Armadas.

ABRI's military operations relied on a well-developed doctrine of national defense called Total People's Defense, based on experiences during the struggle for independence. This doctrine proclaimed that Indonesia could neither afford to maintain a large military apparatus nor would it compromise its hard-won independence by sacrificing its nonaligned status and depending on other nations to provide its defense. Instead, the nation would defend itself through a strategy of territorial guerrilla warfare in which the armed forces, deployed throughout the nation, would serve as a cadre force to rally and lead the entire population in a people's war of defense. Military planners envisioned a three-stage war, comprising a short initial period in which an invader would defeat conventional Indonesian resistance and establish its own control, a long period of unconventional, regionally based fighting, and a final phase in which the invaders would eventually be repelled.

The success of this strategy, according to the doctrine, required that a close bond be maintained between citizen and soldier to encourage the support of the entire population and enable the military to manage all war-related resources. In this scenario, the people would provide logistical support, intelligence, and upkeep, and, as resources permitted, some civilians would be organized, trained, and armed to join the guerrilla struggle. In trying to attain these goals, ABRI maintained a territorial organization, run largely by the army, to support public order. This group exercised considerable influence over local decisions regarding such matters as population redistribution, the production of food and strategic materials, and the development of air and sea transportation. Armed forces personnel also continued to engage in large-scale civic action projects involving community and rural development in order to draw closer to the people, to ensure the continued support of the populace, and to develop among military personnel a detailed knowledge of the region to which they were assigned. The largest of these programs, the Armed Forces Enters the Village (AMD) began in 1983 and was to continue indefinitely. It consisted of nationwide civic action campaigns held roughly three times a year to provide assistance in planning and constructing rural and urban projects selected by local villagers.

The Total People's Defense strategy did not apply in some of the major actions Indonesia had engaged in since independence. For example, during the Confrontation with Malaysia from 1963 to 1966, ABRI engaged Malaysian forces in guerrilla warfare without the support of the border peoples of Sarawak and Sabah; in the dispute with the Dutch over West New Guinea in the mid-1960s, ABRI fought against Dutch troops. These conflicts were fought in territory outside the effective jurisdiction of the national government where the Indonesian armed forces lacked the support of the civilian population and where the concept of Total People's Defense could not be implemented. However, because the framers of the 1945 constitution had declared these areas as naturally belonging to Indonesia, national authorities declared that these conflicts were anticolonial wars and in fact represented the completion of the war of independence begun in 1945

Indonesia is unique among developing countries in the relatively low priority given to defense spending. Having fully supported the basic concept of the Suharto regime, namely, that national defense and security depended on the country's economic development, the armed forces endorsed the principle that scarce domestic resources and foreign aid could not be diverted for military use without slowing the progress of national development.

Parliamentary mandate in 1978 encouraged the development of a domestic defense industry to lessen Indonesia's dependence on foreign manufacturers and to reduce the use of scarce foreign currency reserves on weaponry. In keeping with these guidelines, domestic capacity to maintain, repair, and produce military equipment was improved. Large naval vessels and fighter aircraft still had to be purchased abroad, but the Indonesian aircraft and shipbuilding industries, detached from the armed forces in the early 1980s, had been upgraded by the early 1990s. They produced helicopters, light aircraft, transport aircraft, landing craft, patrol boats, small arms, and a variety of spare parts for these systems, taking advantage of offset production and other licensing agreements with foreign firms. Defense industries attended to a greater amount of routine as well as local-level maintenance, such as installing new engines in helicopters and combat vehicles that had been retired from service because of a shortage of spare parts. Several electronics firms were established to support defense matériel production. The government continued to seek defense-related technology transfer from the United States, Japan, and several European nations. For example, certification of the P.T. PAL shipyard, starting in 1992, to perform certain types of en route repairs for United States Navy warships on a commercial basis brought a new level of sophistication to that facility.

Despite these efforts, Indonesia is far from self-sufficient in the production of weapons and defense-related matériel. Domestic facilities remained inadequate for the repair of certain complex weapons systems, and equipment inventories often represented considerable overstatements of what was in functioning order. Moreover, although defense guidelines favored the standardization of weaponry and defense matériel, the armed forces still possessed and continued to procure equipment from a number of other countries, presenting serious problems in obtaining and stocking spare parts and training technical maintenance personnel. Progress on regional cooperation in defense maintenance began to show results in the mid-1980s, with cooperative agreements for aircraft and maritime repairs and maintenance established with both Singapore and Malaysia.

Civilian utilization of defense industry plants has benefited the national economic base. The major defense industries were transferred from the armed forces in the 1980s and in 1992 were managed by the minister of state for research and technology. Under a new policy these plants also produced matériel for the commercial and civilian sectors. The aircraft industry produced parts and equipment for commercial aviation, for example, and the army's former munitions plants manufactured commercial explosives for the mining and petroleum industries. The P.T. PAL shipyard also manufactured commercial ships and maritime equipment.

Grade and rank structure is standard throughout the three military services and the police. It corresponded to that common to most military systems, with minor deviations. No formal class of warrant officers existed between the enlisted and commissioned hierarchies. Uniforms of the four services were distinguished by color and style, with variations in headgear and other details distinguishing some elite troops, who wear various colors of berets. Army working and ceremonial uniforms are olive drab and those of the police, dark brown. Air force and navy uniforms are medium blue and navy blue, respectively. Rank insignia are standardized among the services. In ceremonial and service dress, officers wear them on the shoulder epaulet. Field uniform insignia were moved in 1991 from the front of the fatigue shirt to the collar tip. Rank insignia were worn on the sleeves for NCOs and enlisted personnel.

One title unique to Indonesia is panglima, a traditional heroic rank revived during the National Revolution. Although panglima is often translated as commander, it carries a higher connotation of honor and power. Its bearers, usually flag officers of various ranks, derive enhanced personal status from serving as panglima. In the 1980s, tradition evolved to limit the title panglima to the ABRI commander in chief and the commanders of KOSTRAD and the ten KODAMs.


Sources and Resources

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Created by John Pike
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Updated Monday, September 13, 1999 8:02:11 AM