Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo:
COUNT on the military to be on time. Late last week, flanked by his entourage of generals, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo appeared at 11am sharp for an interview with Tempo. Minutes into the conversation, he made it clear albeit politely that he was not one to beat around the bush.
Unlike his brother-in-law President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Gen. Pramono is like most Indonesian men neither tall, nor short. His face, particularly his eyes, resembles that of his father, the late Gen. Sarwo Edhie Wibowo. He remains as lean as when he graduated from the Armed Forces Academy in 1980.
The small talk lasted not five minutes before he laid down the two conditions for the interview to proceed. "I do not want to be considered as someone who's selling (his image Ed)," Pramono said at a massive room within the Army Headquarters, just a few hundred meters away from the Presidential Palace. "I do not want a photograph of myself alone appearing in your pages."
A negotiation followed, and it was agreed eventually that Gen. Pramono would have his picture taken by Tempo photographer Jacky Rachmansyah together with the other generals present at the interview Deputy Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Budiman, Logistics Chief Maj. Gen. Sonny Widjaja, Assistant of Operations Maj. Gen. Hardiono Saroso and Planning Deputy Assistant Brig. Gen. Prawiro Prasetyanto.
The second condition was that no question on politics was allowed. Pramono suggested that he was well aware of the widespread rumors of he being in line for the presidential candidacy come 2014. He stressed that being a soldier, he would not discuss it. The rumors stem from the fact that being the brother of First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and having been appointed Army Chief of Staff six months ago, he would be considered as a top candidate by the Democrat Party to run in the elections particularly considering Pramono's timing. He would be retired by then.
Pramono, however, chose to speak openly on the need to upgrade and modernize the army's existing arsenal, as well as major procurement plans scheduled to be conducted in the immediate months to come. A total of Rp14 trillion has been allocated and was agreed upon by the House of Representatives (DPR) for the purchase of tanks, ammunition and other arms equipment in the next three years.
Of this amount, US$280 million (Rp2.5 trillion) has been set aside for the purchase of at least 100 Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks, all German-made. Unlike its neighbors Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, which have anywhere between dozens to hundreds of main battle tanks, the Indonesian Army to date only has light tanks.
These plans, which involve the procurement of arms and weapons, are opportunities that are unlikely to be missed out by arms brokers here. For brokers, whose riches depend on connecting the right kind of arms producers and dealers abroad to the Indonesian Army, these plans could secure their lives for generations to come. If a mere 5 percent is set as the commission fee, for instance, this alone could earn brokers about Rp700 billion. That the payment of such fees have been known to be sanctioned by senior officials is no secret either. The following are excerpts of the interview with reporters Tomi Aryanto, Setri Yasra, Fanny Febiana, Gita Lal and Qaris Tajudin:
Why the need to buy military arsenal now, including the Leopard main battle tanks?
First, there is the substantial budget from the state, in line with the good growth of our economy. However, if you were to compare our procurement plans with those from the Indonesian Navy and Air Force, ours is the smallest of the three services. Items to be bought by the navy and air force will have very sophisticated levels of high technology, whether they be fighter aircraft, battleships or submarines. Secondly, to decide on what exactly needs to be bought, I must consider what the armies of neighboring nations already have. I am not buying in order to compete with them. I have to equalize our standing (in terms of military power Ed.). Malaysia has scores of main battle tanks, like Singapore. Thailand has more than 200 heavy battle tanks. What we have, are only light tanks.
When was the last time we bought tanks?
It's been too long since we have had a major arms procurement, primarily due to economic conditions. The last time we bought in massive amounts for our military was about 20 years ago. If it's just infantry equipment and weapons, each year we refurbish them. The last time we bought tanks? Those were the Scorpions, during the time of Pak Harto [New Order], long before he resigned.
What is the condition of our armament today?
The development of our armament and arsenal is very much dependent on funds from the state. There is an army policy to implement and possess just the minimum essential force. Our level is at its minimum and not ideal.
Do we really need such massive, high-tech tanks?
There are many people who have conveyed to me: "Your tanks (that you are after Ed.) are too big." If our tank is about 76 tons, and those doing battle with us have tanks weighing at about 120 tons each, even before we lay eyes on their tanks, we shall be shot at. We are not their equals at this point.
Why pick Leopard tanks? Why not Abrams tanks from the US or Leclerc from France, or tanks from Russia?
Lt. Gen. Budiman: Leopard tanks are considered the best in the world. I had once ridden in an Abrams when I studied in the US, and they fall behind Leopard tanks in caliber. In terms of fuel efficiency and maneuvering techniques, Leopard tanks are the best.
Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo: Leopard tanks are used by armies across 15 nations. It is like a Mercedes it's in a class of its own. Yes, Leclerc battle tanks are indeed huge, but how many nations actually use them? Not many.
Why not Abrams tanks?
The US gives these options to its closest allies like Israel and Australia. It seems we are not part of that group. If the US allows for us to buy the Abrams at competitive prices, we would go for it.
Could you elaborate on the pricing of these tanks?
Lt. Gen. Budiman: We can explain in detail but it would not be for publication purposes. The big picture is this: The latest version of the Leopard 2 the 2A7 are tanks that we cannot afford to purchase. We are therefore purchasing the 2A6 main battle tanks from the Netherlands. These tanks, bought in 2002, have never been used for battle by the Netherlands. Never used for major military exercises. They are safely parked in highly protected garages. What the Netherlands wanted was this they were willing to sell us primarily on two conditions. One was that this would be strictly a G-to-G (government to government) arrangement, and would not involve middlemen. I said yes. Secondly, no fees or commissions would be involved. I agreed.
How much was initially allocated for the purchase of these tanks?
We had initially proposed US$280 million for 44 units. And so, it was allocated. What happened was when our team returned from the Netherlands, we learned we got 100 units. We felt very lucky, and why not? Even this however does not fulfill the requirements of a minimum essential force. Just imagine, with US$280 million we can buy more than twice the amounts of tanks so we are actually profiting by US$140 million.
So, this is all being conducted without interference from brokers?
Yes, completely. This is government-to-government.
Why was the Deputy Army Chief of Staff selected to lead the team of negotiators for the procurement?
This agreement requires a lot of strategy, and that's where the Deputy Army Chief of Staff comes in. I am the one behind him and I make the final decision to ensure that there is no contamination or interference. We have factored in everything. To build the army is not inexpensive, and budget from the state is not much. We have all decided that every act of abuse of funds must be eliminated. We are here to serve. There will be no more stealing from the state, because the state has given us so much already.
What about procurement of other arms equipment?
When I was at the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), I had once inquired about the purchase of viewfinders for Pindad (state munitions company) weapons from overseas. The initial offer was Rp24 million per unit. I felt that this was too expensive. I instructed my staffers to call the office in the US. They said they had agent branches in Indonesia and Singapore. I told them, I don't want to go through them, because their offer was too much. Allah gave me a way. I was made Army Chief of Staff, and my logistics chief was invited to the US. I instructed him to search for companies or factories that could get us those viewfinders. And we found one that sold each unit for US$950 (Rp9 million)!
Are you sure that all procurement of arms for the Indonesian Army shall be conducted without brokers?
We shall do our best.
What about the cost to maintain these tanks and other weapons? If we require spare parts, wouldn't we then have to deal with brokers?
All this has been included and factored in. At least 30 percent of the money proposed is for spare parts. This was actually an old policy but it was never followed. Now it will be followed. Today if you buy arms it has to be inclusive of spare parts and the bullets. From the training of the drivers, the gunners, to techniques of battling and effective maneuvering and use of vehicle all is included in the contract.
What happens if this policy is not followed after these three years?
I will be retired by then. (Laughing.)
When are these Leopard tanks arriving from the Netherlands?
If it is a plan that is fully supported, and payment is made quickly, by next year they should arrive in Indonesia. They are currently sitting in warehouses.
Where will they be deployed?
Across Java. Not in the border regions, because that would be unwise. It would be as if we were trying to fish for trouble.
With these purchases, do you think we would be equal to our neighbors in terms of military power?
Yes, Alhamdulillah. Malaysia, for instance, has 64 main battle tanks from Russia.
Outside of tanks, what will the rest of the funds be used for?
There is much that we need to replenish, and this includes for Arhanud (Indonesian Artillery Battalion). Fighter jets everywhere now are supersonic. We should have missiles. We are going for Mistral homing missiles from France, which have an accuracy of up to 99 percent. But, they are very expensive. We also need new cannons. To date, we do not have the 155mm cannon. We are also getting a multi-launcher rocket system. We are talking with Brazil and the US about this.
What's wrong with the existing cannons we have?
Ours are from Yugoslavia, and are over 30 years old! There was a lieutenant who upon graduating from the Military Academy fired that cannon. He's retired now, but the cannon has not.
With so many items and brands, won't the maintenance of these weapons and tanks be a problem?
We are used to conducting maintenance of these products, plus technology continues to develop.
Have there been any rejections thus far from parliaments of the countries where we plan to buy our new arsenal from?
No problems with France, England or Germany. We are working with the Netherlands. There was however a problem when we wanted to buy the Apache helicopters. The producers of these Apache helicopters had initially given us a fixed price, but the US parliament seems to be considering the matter now one of their allies, Singapore, only has two. We want to buy eight.
The US is normally quite strict on rules and regulations for selling weapons to foreign nations.
That's correct. Once the US said that one of the rules of buying weapons from them was that they are not to be used in Papua or against Papuans. Now, why would we shoot our own people with rockets? So, such rules actually are not a problem for us.
Has there been a change in policy within the army on Papua?
Nothing of significance. No additional military troops to be deployed there. This matter needs to be resolved between the people and the local administration. Whenever today an incident [of shooting] occurs, my first question is: "Was it my men who did it or someone else's?" If not my men, I assume that it was conducted by a group that opposes us. I was pretty surprised with the shootings during the raising of the Morning Star flag recently. The bullets were checked they were not ours.
Can a military operation resolve the problems in Papua?
No. This is a problem that has to be viewed from its roots. Think of how much funds have been allocated for Papua through its special autonomy status? Where have all those trillions gone? It's high-level corruption and I fear it.
What policies have you implemented to ensure that funds allocated for weapons procurement will not be abused?
Gen. Pramono Edhie: I am ready to be audited at any time. Please ask me, how much percentage will I receive from these purchases? I have no problems handing over this procurement of tanks to some other person who is able to get even more tanks with the same specifications using the same amount of money.
Lt. Gen. Budiman: We have vowed to follow and uphold the rules. If there is anybody who corrupt and deserves to be removed from [his or her] position, they shall be removed. We do not care who it is, even if this person happens to be close to [Army Chief of Staff].
In the past six months, has anybody been dismissed for collaborating with a broker or for corruption?
None. If there is anything that does not seem right, I would say: "Recheck and recount. We have counted it wrongly." I will not accuse anyone of collaborating with brokers, because I want to first give people a chance to correct themselves. If it happens for a second time, the person will not be spared.
What do you do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
I ride the bicycle. And I don't get expensive ones because they could cause me stress if they got lost. Nothing strenuous, since I am old now. I am already measuring the length and width of my grave. (Laughs) If I don't remember these things, I would wish to do so much.
Some believe you are fit enough to run for president in 2014.
Oh, no, no, no. I wish to complete this service of mine as an army general with honor. I am a soldier, and this is why I do not want to talk politics.
This is what President Yudhoyono more or less said in 2003.
Has anybody ever asked SBY [Yudhoyono], how he feels holding all of it in? Maybe at that time becoming a president was a good thing. Now, it is no longer fun to be president. With soldiers, the rules are clear. If your subordinates violate rules and do not follow the vows they take as soldiers, Twack! (Moves his hand as if to slap). This is not the case with the presidency.
So President Yudhoyono confides in you?
I can't tell you that, can I?
PRAMONO EDHIE WIBOWO
Place & Date of Birth: Magelang, Central Java, May 5, 1955 Education: l Armed Forces Academy (1980) l Indonesian Military Joint Staff & Command School (2001) Career: l Army Chief of Staff l Commander, Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus) l Commander, Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad).
Issue: 16/12, December 14, 2011