Indonesia will deploy U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to the Natuna islands to ward off “thieves”, the defense minister said less than two weeks after Chinese coast guard vessels clashed with an Indonesian boat in the area.
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. The military will, or has already, stationed 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.