The Indonesian Air Force (Tentera Nasional Indonesia - Angkatan Udara, TNI-AU) is planning to upgrade its airbase at Ranai on Riau Island so it can be used by Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 fighter aircraft, the base's commander said on 27 March.
The new facilities will include hangars on the western part of the airbase and are being installed with the long-term goal of permanently deploying a squadron of Sukhoi fighter aircraft on the Natuna Islands.
The TNI-AU operates a mix of Su-27SK and Su-30MKs, with additional orders expected. The aircraft would join four Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters - a deployment that was separately announced on the same day by Indonesian Army (TNI-AD) Chief of Staff General Budiman.
Fajru Zaini, Indonesia's deputy coordinating minister for politics, law and peace, described the prospective Sukhoi deployment to Natuna as being a part of Jakarta's aim to develop a 'Minimum Essential Force (MEF)'. The concept, introduced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2005, aims to establish the nature and minimum scale of military capabilities that Indonesia should seek to deploy in response to a strategic threat.
On 28 February IHS Jane's reported on Indonesian Armed Forces plans to expand its presence in the area as a counter to instability in the South China Sea. The Natuna Islands, with a total land area of 2,631 km 2 , sit on Indonesia's maritime borders with Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam at the southern tip of the South China Sea.
Although Indonesia is not involved in the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea over the Paracel and Spratly islands, Beijing's declared 'nine-dashed-line' overlaps with Jakarta's claim to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Natuna Islands region. The Natuna Sea has one of the world's largest gas fields, containing an estimated 46 trillion ft 3 (1.3 trillion m 3 ) of natural gas and condensates. The nine-dashed line is a demarcation used by China to define its claims to parts of the South China Sea. (IHS Jane's Navy International)