Defence ties between India and Indonesia: A New Thrust for Security Partnership

 By Gitanjali Sinha Roy

India and Indonesia share deep historical and civilisational relations as well as close cultural and commercial bonds. Indonesia has also been instrumental in the Bandung Conference in 1955 which later formed the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reinvigorated the ‘Look East Policy’ to ‘Act East Policy’ which has further strengthened the ties with Southeast Asian nations and Indonesia is one of them. On 29 May 2018, India and Indonesia established ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ with special emphasis on politics, strategy, defence, security and economics. Since, then, India and Indonesia have worked continuously on strengthening defence ties. The recent visit by General Prabowo Subianto, the Defence Minister of Indonesia, on 26 July 2020 could be seen as an attempt to further expand India and Indonesia’s strategic cooperation in the realm of defence and military ties.[1] Therefore, the article aims to highlight the defence ties between India and Indonesia which is paving the way for a new thrust of security partnership.

India and Indonesia have been engaged with one another bilaterally since 2000, which saw an intensification of mutual ties, however, the highlight for defence ties was in 2012 when A.K. Anthony, the then Defence Minister of India had visited Indonesia to attend the biennial dialogue, the first Ministerial Level biennial dialogue between India and Indonesia. Further in October 2013,  the then Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Indonesia where the two leaders adopted a five-pronged initiative for strengthening Strategic Partnership and focused on areas of strategic engagement, defence and security cooperation, comprehensive economic partnership, cultural and people-to-people links and cooperation in responding to common challenges. In November 2014, the Third Army Staff Talks took place where issues of common interest like fields of operations, training and capacity building was discussed and participants of both the country’s Armed Forces participated in similar seminars like the JIDD 2014 in Jakarta and HADR Seminar in Port Blair. India and Indonesia regularly conducts Coordinated Naval Patrols along the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). Indonesian Navy participated in MILAN 2014 and the Indian Navy participated in the inaugural edition of the Multilateral Naval Exercise Komodo (2014) in Indonesia. Indian Defence Industry represented major Indian Defence PSUs, DRDO and BrahMos in the Indo Defence Expo 2014 in Jakarta[2].

In 2015, India-Indonesia Defence Cooperation witnessed a significant growth as the ‘IND-INDO Bilateral Naval Exercise’ was inaugurated which further boost the naval cooperation. Reciprocal Instructor and Cadet Exchange programs were done to strengthen the personal bonds, and regular exchanges in training continued with the Indonesian Armed Forces availing the large number of vacancies offered as part of the ITEC scheme[3]. In December 2016, a ‘Joint Statement on Maritime Cooperation’ was issued and the commencement of Strategic and Security Dialogue also took place along with negotiating a new Comprehensive Defence Cooperation Agreement[4]. On 7 March 2017, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Leaders’ Summit was held in Jakarta and Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the then Vice President of India represented India and General V.K. Singh(Retd),  then Minister of State of External Affairs had represented India in the IORA Council of Ministers Meeting on 6 March 2017. On 21 November 2017, the Third Australia-India-Indonesia Trilateral Dialogue on Indian Ocean was held at New Delhi and were building norms for Indian Ocean Regional Cooperation’ and fisheries management in Indian Ocean based on the IORA concord, were discussed. This was followed by the first Indonesia-Australia-India (IAI) Senior Officials’ Strategic Dialogue held in Bogor, Indonesia[5].

In May 2018, India and Indonesia established a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ and the key takeaways were the adoption of the “Shared Vision on Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” aiming for greater maritime cooperation which would help stabilise the region. The countries being strategic partners and maritime neighbours aimed to broaden and strengthen the robust defence cooperation which resulted in the signing of the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) which led to the First Security Dialogue on 9 January 2018, the Second Defence Ministers’ Dialogue was held on 19 January 2018 and the Fifth Defence Cooperation Committee was held from 15-17 January 2017. They also agreed to mutually enhance trust through regular staff talks between armies, navies and air forces, hold bilateral joint exercises between navies and Air Forces and also endorsed the Standard Operational Procedure for their Navies and Air Forces. Mutual collaboration was seen in sectors of joint production of equipment, technology transfer, technical assistance, capacity building and sourcing of defence equipment. They also finalised the MoU on Maritime Security Cooperation between Badan Keamanan Laut and the Indian Coast Guard which institutionalised training cooperation, capacity building, joint exercises and coordinated patrols. They have also successfully conducted the Third Joint Army Exercise on Counter-Insurgency and Counter-Terrorism ‘Garuda Shakti’ along with Special Forces in February-March 2018. On 10 May 2018, the fifth Meeting of the Joint Commission was held at Bali which explored the strategic technical cooperation on maritime security. In August 2018, the sixth Meeting of Joint Defence Coordination Committee (JDCC) was held with the agreement to commence Naval and Air Force bilateral exercises and this was followed by the first bilateral naval exercises between India and Indonesia ‘Samudra Shakti’ held from 13-18 November 2018[6].

In June 2019, during the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Prime Minister Modi and President Widodo met and discussed about enhancing the economic and maritime cooperation between the two countries. The two leaders also set a target of US$50billion for bilateral trade by 2025 and aimed to expand the maritime connectivity between Aceh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In the realm of defence cooperation, the eighth Army to Army talks were held in August 2019, tenth Navy to Navy Staff Talks were held in August 2019 and the third Air Force to Air Force Talks were held in October 2019. In November 2019, the second Joint Naval Exercise was held and also the third India-Australia-Indonesia Senior Officials’ Strategic Dialogue was held on 19 November 2019[7].

General Prabowo Subianto, the Defense Minister of Indonesia, paid a three day visit to India from 26-28 July 2020 and agreed to expand the strategic cooperation in the realm of defence and military ties with their focus on defence industries and technology sharing, as they tried to identify potential areas of cooperation in the fields of defence industry and defence technology. They have further discussed on strengthening bilateral cooperation and take the defence ties to the “next level of deliverables”. The possible export of BrahMos cruise missile by India to Indonesia was also discussed and also ways to deepen the maritime security cooperation[8].

The strategic partnership between India and Indonesia has been developed between the two countries as both the countries share multiple common concerns regarding the use of oceans which would become imperative in the maintenance of free, open and inclusive regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Also, China’s rapid rise and intentions in the maritime sector has been a common point of apprehension. India and Indonesia are maritime nations sharing vital economic and security interests in the Indian Ocean aiming for freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development and upholding the ASEAN centrality.  Also, India and Indonesia are committed to strengthening the architecture of their defence relationship by holding regular sessions of Defence Ministers’ dialogues, joint exercises and joint defence cooperation committees which would pave the way for a new thrust for security partnership in the future.


[1] “India & Indonesia agree to expand defence ties and technology sharing”, The Print, 27 July, 2020 Accessed on 29 July 2020

[2]  Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, Annual Report 2014-2015 (New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2015). Accessed on 27 July 2020

[3] Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, Annual Report 2015-2016 (New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2016). Accessed on 29 July 2020

[4] Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, India-Indonesia Bilateral Relations December 2016(New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2016). Accessed on 30 July 2020

[5] Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, Annual Report 2019-2020 (New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2020). Accessed on 29 July 2020

[6] Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, Annual Report 2018-2019 (New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2019). Accessed on 29 July 2020

[7] Ministry of External Affairs, MEA, India-Indonesia Bilateral Brief(New Delhi, India: Ministry of External Affairs, 2019). Accessed on 30 July 2020

[8] Ibid.