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Defense spending hits Indonesian politics

JAKARTA, June 18 (UPI) -- Indonesian legislators are looking into an increase in defense spending as the country's military tries to deal with a crumbling infrastructure.

Twice last week military helicopters crashed in West Java with at least seven killed. Just days before that a military C-130 transport plane crashed near an air base in East Java, with about 100 people killed. And in April another military aircraft accident killed 24 people.

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Indonesia is infamous for its lax aircraft maintenance -- in 2007 the European Union banned all Indonesian airlines from flying to its countries because of poor safety records -- but the spate of military-related crashes is becoming an issue ahead of presidential elections July 8.

While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claims the crash of the 40-year-old Lockheed-Martin C-130 wasn't due to cuts in the defense budget, Vice President Jusuf Kalla, now running against his boss for the top spot, said the accidents are a sign that defense spending should be increased.

"If Kalla and his running mate Wiranto win the presidential election, the government will double the defense budget for state arms manufacturer PT Pindad, aircraft manufacturer PT DI and shipbuilders PT PAL to build a strong military industry and reduce Indonesia's dependence on foreign countries," Yuddy Chrisnandi, spokesman for Kalla's campaign team, told The Jakarta Post.

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The Indonesian House of Representatives is looking into increasing defense spending to about $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2010. That represents about an 8 percent increase over fiscal year 2009 allocations.

That, however, is a lot less than Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono was seeking. He'd previously said an increase of between $700 million and $1 billion was needed to pay for basic maintenance. Sudarsono previously said his defense budget should be in the $10 billion range. That is well out of political or fiscal reality.

The Indonesia economy is among those suffering in the world recession, and expenditures for new material would be tight at best. Indonesia's defense spending is less than 1 percent of gross domestic product, and the Defense Ministry is looking to boost that to 1.2 percent of GDP, a figure that would be closer to $4 billion than $10 billion.

Sudarsono has been looking to the United States to buy new C-130s, along with fighter jets and submarines.

Indonesia is also turning to state-owned industry for military hardware. PT Pindad this year delivered armored personnel carriers. Pindad is expected to add amphibious tanks and heavy weapons to its production line.

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