Home International Relations Indonesia-India Defence Partnership: An Overview

Indonesia-India Defence Partnership: An Overview


The traces of Indonesia and India relations date centuries back to the times of Ramayana with Hinduism and Buddhism intermingling with the culture of Indonesia. Indonesia is in India’s extended neighbourhood as India’s Andaman and the Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Indonesia along the Andaman Sea (Burea, P.I, 2015). India regards Indonesia as a key member of ASEAN and an important country for the growth and development of Asia. Indonesia is a key part of India’s Act East Policy.

Security and Defence Relationship 

Indonesia and India have had defence ties for a long time. India provided Indonesia with spare parts and Indonesian pilots after the end of the cold war in 1991. In 1995, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation was signed between the two countries focusing on supplies, technologies, joint production, and joint projects. 

Both countries have taken major commitments individually as well as collectively to protect the Sea lines of communication. In 2001, during the visit of the Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, a defence cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries to coordinate in protecting and guarding the Strait of Malacca against maritime terrorism and piracy and showed interest to further expand cooperation in the defence (Udai, 2018). 

During the visit of the Indonesian president, Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on 21-23 November 2005, to the annual India- Indonesia strategic dialogue, the following steps were considered:

  • Promotion in regional security 
  • Common security interests
  • Geographical neighbour’s with a shared maritime boundary 
  • Measures to curb terrorism.

In January 2005, after Tsunami, India launched operation Gambhir and sent medical and food supplies to Indonesia through its hospital ship INS Nirupak and INS Khukri which was greatly appreciated by President Yudhoyono during his visit in November 2005 and by Vice President Dr. Jusuf Kalla, during his visit in January 2007 (Times of India, 2005).

The first defence meeting was held in Jakarta in June 2007 with the establishment of the Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) and the second meeting was held in New Delhi on 17-18 June 2010. India has been expanding defence equipment for the Indonesian Navy and both countries are exploring other areas for defence cooperation (MEA, 2007). 

Indonesia- India first-ever dialogue for defence happened in October 2012. A. K. Antony the then defence minister of India regarded this meeting as a “turning point” and an “excellent beginning”. The leaders exchanged views on defence, global, and regional security, and maritime operations in the South Asia Sea. Issues in Afghanistan and West Asia were also deliberated upon. During the same period, the first combined exercise on counter-terrorism and jungle warfare was held, and further, it was agreed that such activities should be agreed upon to be held by both countries. Also, both countries conducted “Coordinated Maritime Patrols” (CORPAT). 

Previously, Indonesia had approached China to train its pilot and for technical support but they are also interested in obtaining India’s cooperation for the same. In October 2012, the Indian Air Force assisted the Indonesian Air Force to operate Russian Sukhoi fighter jets. Arup Raha, Air Chief Marshal visited the Indonesian Aerospace Company at Bandung on 22 November 2014 and expressed India’s commitment to supporting the Indonesian Defence Industry, and had a discussion on enhancing the defence cooperation. 

During the visit of President of the Republic of Indonesia H.E Mr. Joko Widodo to India on the invitation of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both the leaders emphasized the importance of security and defence cooperation between the two countries. President of the Republic of Indonesia H.E Mr. Joko Widodo visited India from 11 to 13 December 2016. The successful staff talks between Armies (August 2016) and the Navies (June 2015) were considered important for the boost to defence cooperation. Both countries agreed to increase the defence exchanges, training, and joint exercises. Also, the agreement both countries signed emphasized to broaden up the areas such as joint production of equipment’s technical assistance and capacity building cooperation (MEA, 2016). 

During his first official visit to Indonesia on 30th May 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President H.E. Joko Widodo established a comprehensive strategic partnership between Indonesia and India.  They reaffirmed their commitment to regional security and defence, and they further ensured cooperation in the defence industry and technology. The strengthening of joint production of equipment, exercises, and training was taken into consideration. Cooperation between the Indonesia National Defence University and National Defence College was also established during the visit (MEA, 2018).

Maritime Cooperation 

With the last island of India, Andaman and Nicobar chain is only 800 nautical miles from the north most island of Indonesia which makes geographical connectivity between the two countries This paves a way for both the nations to be cooperative with each other in terms of harnessing maritime power. With a coastline stretching from 54,716 km, 5271 km east to west, and 2210 km north to South, Indonesia dominates key international waterways: Sunda, Malacca, Lombok, and Makassar straits and most of the commonly used waterways between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. This is why India holds Indonesia as an important actor in the Look East Policy. 

With the coming up of the new President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, a new doctrine emphasizing Jakarta’s role as a maritime axis has come up that will bridge between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and bring more focus to Indonesia’s foreign and defence policies. Both countries are emerging as the security architect of Asia and play an important role to safeguard these waterways for their security especially by not letting any single country dominate these waterways. With China’s rise and its activities in the South China Sea, it becomes imperative for both countries to cooperate and strengthen their maritime policies (PTI, 2012). Both countries have set up the common International Maritime boundary line (IMBL) in January 1977 and since 2002 both have coordinated patrols to curb the Maritime Crimes. 

During a recent interaction of Prime Minister Modi with Dr. H.Wiranto (Coordination Minister for Political, Legal, Security affairs of the Republic of Indonesia) he said, “as maritime neighbours, there is a vast scope for cooperation between Indonesia and India on Development of Blue Economy as well as in the domain of maritime security” (United News of India, 2018). 

Common Concerns 

Indonesia and India are new democratic countries that suffered in the hand of colonial rule for a long time. The struggle to build an independent and stable country was not easy but today we see different religions, cultures, and ideologies prospering and living in peace and harmony. However, with the changing times, the problems are also changing. Today, both countries face some common threats which require cooperation and coordination. These include terrorism, environmental changes, illegal activities through sea routes, and diseases. However, both countries are doing the best to tackle these problems and provide a better life and greater liberty to their people (David Brewster, 2011). 

Both countries are facing problems with militancy and terrorism. It was during the visit of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to India, that the issue of terrorism was acknowledged as a major issue (Sharma, 2011). A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two countries in 2004 with the fight against terrorism as the main agenda which led to the establishment of the Joint Working Group (MEA, 2004). The first meeting in this regard was held in February 2005 wherein it was agreed to strengthen the policies to fight against terrorism and also reinforce cooperation amongst the two nations in terms of exchange of information and intelligence, capacity building, and legal collaboration. 

In 2011, with the visit of President Yudhoyono to India, the same pledge was reviewed. On 13-14 December 2011 during the meeting of the Joint Working Group, two treaties were signed namely Extradition Treaty and Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MEA, 2011). After the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Indonesia in 2013, more policies and treaties were signed on the following significant issues: 

  • Health Cooperation 
  • Disaster Management Cooperation 
  • Combating Corruption 
  • ICWA India and ICWA Indonesia Corruption 
  • Combating Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic drugs.

During the visit of President of Republic of Indonesia, H.E Mr. Joko Widodo from 11 to 13 December 2016 to India, topics on terrorism and other global issues were discussed and treaties and polices to resolve terrorism and terrorist financing, arms smuggling, trafficking in human beings and cyber-crimes were taken up (MEA, 2016).  Also, this led to the first meeting of the joint working group on Combating Illicit Trafficking in Narcotics, Drugs, Psychotropic substances in August 2016. In November 2016, “Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction” was held in New Delhi in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to mitigate the disaster risks. 

Statement on maritime cooperation was also issued which included cooperation on maritime security, maritime industry, maritime safety and navigation, and other areas identified as important by both countries. Joint community on IUU Fishing and to promote Sustainable Fisheries Governance between Indonesia and India was initiated to recognize transnational organized fisheries crime as one of the emerging crimes, which has become an ever-growing threat to the world.  

Opportunities and Challenges 

Over the years, the two countries have moved closer to each other and engaged in cooperative initiatives on bilateral and multilateral issues. While the ‘China Threat’ theory has helped bring these two countries together there are still many areas where both countries need to enhance their relationship. With China’s constant activities in the South China Sea and disputes with the other countries comes an alarm for countries like Indonesia and India. China will try to enhance its relationship with Indonesia, as the ships carrying the essential commodities must pass through the maritime choke-points which are secure by Indonesia. In this regard, India needs to build up a stronger relationship with the latter based on better coordination and cooperation. 

Since 1991, India has followed a Look East Policy (Act East Policy since 2014).  This policy emanates from a realization that our economic progress and well-being is linked to the growth and prosperity of the entire Asian continent. This has created an environment for better coordination and cooperation between the two countries and thus taking their relationship to new heights (Shekhar, 2017). 

The time is also right for both Indonesia and India to bring better stability and equity to the international order. Both countries have similar aspirations to have an open trading system through global organizations like the WTO. Also, strong commitment and the greater role has been taken up by both on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility to address issues related to climate change. 

Despite the large size and rapid growth of our economies, the trade and investment between Indonesia and India remain low. There is a need to synergize our efforts in the areas of economy and business to correct the sectoral and directional imbalance of our trade and to further diversify it. The vast consumer market, youthful and skilled human resources who are experts in the field of information technology of India combined with Indonesia’s natural resources, youthful population, and strategic location would provide a platform to enhance economic engagement. 

There is potential for expanding trade in the areas of automobiles, automotive components, IT, engineering products, and pharmaceuticals health care. Energy- including both coal and natural gas – can be a promising area for enhancing trade relations, since Indonesia and India have the resources. Indian investors should invest more in Indonesia and Indonesian investment in India should be promoted. If Indonesian businessmen can invest in China and European countries, they can also invest in India (Bhatai, 2015). 

More steps through culture and tourism should be taken to enhance people to people relationships. Tourism is one of the most important sectors where cooperation should be enhanced. Indonesia being a larger country than Thailand and Singapore will attract more Indian tourists. Education is another area where cooperation should be enhanced. Indian education is low cost and high-standard affair. There are more students from South Korea and Thailand. Students from Indonesia should be encouraged to study in India.

India has a shared vision for a peaceful region and the seas around us. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have high regard for the Indonesian Navy and the emerging Coast Guard. It hopes to continue this cooperation through technical, human resources development, capacity building, and contributing to the development of Indonesian capabilities both physical and human. 

India has been supporting technology transfer and joint ventures for building medium vessels of the Maritime Policy of Indonesia. India is ready to support them through hydrographic surveys and institutionalized cooperation. Both countries are aware of the problems and are working together through various programmes to solve them. These matters are being discussed not only in the bilateral forums but also in other regional forums. 

Indonesia and India are founder members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the apex pan- Indian Ocean multilateral forum and Indonesia is its current chair.  This brings the need for better cooperation to six major areas: Maritime security, trade, and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk reduction, academic and scientific cooperation, tourism promotion, and cultural exchange. Indonesia, given its strategic location, can be a bridge between the Indian and Pacific oceans. As one of the most important countries of the Asia-Pacific rim, Indonesia is in a great position to connect South Asia to the Pacific region. 

Non-traditional threats such as piracy, smuggling, transnational crimes, and drug-trafficking are on the rise and pose a challenge for our countries, and require strong and determined, coordinated action to control. Both countries face similar economic development issues and governance challenges. Both countries can learn from each other and cooperate on various issues.


India and Indonesia have a historical relationship. At no point in time, their relations deteriorated due to the cold war or any other event. As the dynamics of the world and regional power are changing especially in South Asia and East Asia, China’s rise makes Indonesia an important partner to India. Similar backgrounds, Developmental experiences, and shared interests provide common grounds to both countries. Standing on a strong foundation of trust and friendship we can work together on a common vision and harmonious world.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of Diplomacy and Beyond Plus. The publication is not liable for the views expressed by authors.


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