Archive for January, 2010

The missing nuts and bolts of defense reform

Evan A. Laksmana ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 01/27/2010 3:38 PM  |  Opinion

By the end of January, the Defense Ministry’s 100-day program will expire, with key milestones seemingly drowned out by the domestic m*l*e over President Yudhoyono’s characteristic indecision.

More disconcerting, however, is that the ministry seems unable to move away from the existing trend over the past decade of sidelining the key nuts-and-bolts issue of defense reform.

A study by noted security watchdog Pacivis shows that on average, military reform efforts have dealt largely with normative and substantive issues – such as the abolishment of the “Dual Function” doctrine – while only 9 and 2 percent respectively touched on defense economic and force structure issues.

These oversights have significant ramifications in our overall defense planning and ability to narrow the strategic gap between the TNI and the increasingly sophisticated regional forces.



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Since we were (or perhaps still are) known as the Military Transformations Programme, I present an interview with P.W. Singer of the Brookings Institution, one of the leading (and youngest) scholars on technology and war.

Interview with Author and Defense Analyst P.W. Singer

 Author P.W. Singer peers into the future of military technology.The increasingly common use of unmanned ground, air and naval systems has sparked a vigorous worldwide debate about both the military value of robotic systems and the effect they have on politics, ethics and the rules of warfare. In his recent book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, P.W. Singer—a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.–based Brookings Institution and former consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency, Congress and the departments of State and Defense—explored the history, development and current state of military robotics. Here, he discusses the ways in which evolving technologies have changed the nature and conduct of war.

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Fighting Piracy: Another first for SAF
by Samuel Chan
RSIS Commentary No. 10
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Lessons from the Haiti Earthquake: Protecting Small States
by Alan Chong
RSIS Commentary No. 8
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Singapore’s Defence Spending: A Long-term Approach
by Ong Weichong
RSIS Commentary No. 6
Click here to download Commentary

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Evan makes an excellent point here – it’s people that matter the most in any organisation.

Unfortunately, investing in people often reap very low immediate returns – the gains you will see come only in the medium and long-term, and even then, are not guaranteed.

Machinery, on the other hand, is immediately visible.  The returns of an investment in technology, one might argue, come from the mere possession of it. Personnel management also only affects those within the military, whereas possessing the latest tech is satisfying to everyone, at every level of society. That is the whole point of a democracy – to keep the population happy!

The challenge therefore is how to convince _____ (fill in the blank with any section of society) that patience is a value, that “good things come to those who wait,” and the best returns are sometimes the ones that are simply by nature not that visible.

Defense reforms for 2010-14: Men over materiel?

Evan A. Laksmana ,  JAKARTA   |  Sun, 01/03/2010 4:02 PM  |  Opinion

“To defend everything is to defend nothing.” There is a lot of wisdom in this old military axiom. Indeed, it is hard to deny that when it comes to national defense, and even war, we just simply can’t do it all. We need to prioritize.

Yet, when we briefly glance through the recent policies made by the Defense Ministry for its 100-day program, the policy makers there seem to be doing the exact opposite – from stepping up military modernization, strengthening local defense industries, to improving border security and disaster management.

The more worrying aspect, however, is not so much the all-embracing priorities, but the perception that the next step after getting the military out of politics and business is to upgrade their weaponry.

As if getting a budget spike, committing to using local-made defense hardware, and purchasing state-of-the-art fighter jets or submarines, will lead us down the path to “military transformation”.

Certainly ensuring the safety of our men by upgrading our military hardware should be a top priority. But to hold such views narrowly could risk losing sight of the fact the key to sustainable military readiness and effectiveness is in the nation’s men and women in uniform – not the tools they use.

Without dedicated, motivated, able, and well-trained troops, the ministry’s investments in revitalizing defense industries or acquiring state-of-the-art weaponry will be wasted.

As such, our defense planners must realize that overhauling the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) manpower or personnel policies should be a priority over the next four years. Not just to bring in and retain the capable and dedicated officers we need, but also to lay the foundation for a truly transformed military.

Aside from overhauling the entire military education system, military scholar Cindy Williams argued in Service to Country that a comprehensive personnel policy transformation should include an incentive structure meant to attract people to join the force, encourage those with the right skills to stay in, motivate them to work hard and do their jobs well, and influence those whose skills are no longer needed to leave.

One of the first issues we need to address in this regard is the size of the officer corps. Studies have shown the unstable, and often bloated, number of military academy graduates has contributed to a decreasing military readiness, unstable tours of duties, and a fractured, or even politicized, promotion system and career paths.

These factors have played a role in upsetting the overall morale and cohesion of the officer corps from time to time. This is true especially when strategic billets have shrunk over the past decade after the abolishment of civilian and socio-political posts following Soeharto’s fall. As such, we need to debate and look at ways to gradually downsize the officer corps or revamp the force structure to allow a more sustainable, stable corps.

But to avoid crippling our military in the process, we also need to expand our recruitment drives through professional recruiting methods to enlarge and upgrade the pool of prospective officers.

Unfortunately, before we can do that, we need to improve the working conditions of the people who serve by eliminating bureaucratic red tape – or similar counterproductive “traditions” – and improve overall infrastructure and equipment.

This should be done in conjunction with the overhaul of the internal career path system – either by ensuring that commissioned officers are professionally, not politically, evaluated, or by adding the number of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), or both.

For such merit-based systems to be effective, improving military pay schemes and raising basic income must also be part of the program. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the TNI to win the competition in wooing our nation’s best and brightest.

Military pay schemes should also incorporate greater flexibility across postings and duties – especially in those hard-to-fill-in, or dangerous ones. Indeed, the flexibility to pay military specialists more for jobs that are highly rewarded in the private sector, like IT or logistical planning, may be crucial to realizing high-tech-driven transformation.

Last but not least, we need to improve the overall post-service career prospects and quality of life – not just for the officers, but for their families as well.

This includes improving pension schemes, which profoundly affect officers’ decision about their duration of service – and by implication, the size and shape of the force – as well as providing training for skills valued in the civilian job market and ensuring proper housing and other benefits.

After all, the prospect of a better economic future in the civilian world after a commissioned service can be a strong incentive for people to serve.

Yet, the almost-certain clashes between families of retirees and the TNI over housing – the last one being in Jakarta last week – suggests how military families and other quality-of-life benefits are often neglected by defense planners.

Now that we are no longer faced with a pressing internal insurgency, and with a military reform agenda nearly complete, it is time for us to use this “peace dividend” to do the big, long-term thinking and ensure the ministry-TNI can be competitive employers and effective human resource managers.

Military history has shown us that it is people who win wars, not technology.

The writer is a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.

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