The move is part of a military buildup on islands overlooking the South China Sea that will see a refurbished runway and a new port constructed, Ryamizard Ryacudu said in an interview on Thursday with Bloomberg News. It also involves the deployment of marines, air force special force units, an army battalion, three frigates, a new radar system and drones, he said.
The planned stationing of five F-16s reflects a new level of Indonesian concern about territorial disputes in the South China Sea that are pitting Beijing against several of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Indonesia is not a claimant, but the clash with the Chinese coast guard last month over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat showed the potential for it to be drawn into conflict.
“Natuna is a door, if the door is not guarded then thieves will come inside,” said Ryacudu, a former army chief of staff. “There has been all this fuss because until now it has not been guarded. This is about the respect of the country.”
The minister also said he was considering introducing military conscription in Natuna and other remote areas of the 17,000-island archipelago, “so if something happens people won’t be afraid and know what to do.”