Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The House of Representatives may shelve the Ministry of Defense's request to allocate some Rp 8 trillion (US$893 million) to buy 16 Russian-made fighter jets and helicopters.
House members said on Wednesday they would delay the proposal for the planned purchase of the Shukoi aircraft from Russia, in view of the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh and North Sumatra.
The Ministry of Defense has reportedly filed a letter with House Commission I for defense and foreign affairs, requesting Rp 8 trillion from the 2005 state budget to procure the Shukoi jets.
The request came three days after the quake-triggered tsunami inundated Aceh and North Sumatra on Dec. 29, claiming almost 100,000 lives.
""Yes, there is a proposal to purchase one squadron of Sukhoi aircraft. But, we will put the proposal on hold for the 2006 state budget,"" said Djoko Susilo, a member of the House budget committee and a deputy chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN) faction in the legislature.
The letter from the Ministry of Defense was dated Dec. 29, 2004, Djoko said.
He said the Sukhoi jets cost US$43 million each, but added that the cash-strapped country had no money to meet the request of the Ministry of Defense.
However, Commission I chairman Theo L. Sambuaga said he had not received such a proposal from the Ministry of Defense.
""It is true that the defense ministry has discussed the possibility of purchasing more warplanes. But, I have not received any proposal,"" he said.
Theo stressed, however, that there must be intensive discussions before approving the plan to procure fighter jets from any country amid the current financial problems.
The Indonesian Military (TNI) was under fire for the purchase of four Sukhoi planes from Russia last year, as it did not involve the Ministry of Defense.
Instead, the purchase, which was made through a counter-trade deal, involved the then minister of industry and trade, Rini MS Soewandi.
Theo said the four Sukhoi fighters bought last year were not equipped with weapons. ""What we have to discuss now is whether we need to buy weapons for the four Sukhoi, or to purchase more Russian aircraft,"" he added.
During hearings with Commission I, military officials have often complained about the poor condition of the country's defense equipment.
This puts the archipelagic country at risk of possible foreign intrusions and attacks.
Currently, the total personnel in the Indonesian Military (TNI) stand at 347,272, including 268,661 Army personnel, 53,913 Navy personnel, and 24,698 Air Force personnel.
The Air Force has only seven combat squadrons, five carrier squadrons, one interceptor squadron, three helicopter squadrons, and two training squadrons.