The lead item this morning on BBC’s news front page featured video footage from local Indonesian television of chaos surrounding an Indonesian air force C-130 transport plane that crashed into Geplak village on the island of Java.
It’s estimated that the crash killed at least 98 people, including two on the ground. About 110 troops and family members were on board.
Eyewitnesses say they saw the aircraft’s wing snap off and nuts and bolts falling from the sky, BBC reports. A military spokesman said the aircraft was believed to be in good repair, the story says; landing conditions were good, and the crew made contact with just before the aircraft went down, the spokesman said. Investigations are underway to determine what caused the crash.
However, the BBC story also says that Indonesia’s air force “has long complained of being underfunded and handicapped by a U.S. ban on weapons sales.” It notes that this ban has recently been lifted.
I've done a bit of digging on this ban, to find out when it was lifted and get more information on Indonesia's access to the spare parts it may need.
In November 2005, The U.S. State Department eased military sales restrictions on Indonesia, effectively ending a seven-year arms embargo. According to this statement by the U.S. State Department, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the decision to allow the U.S. to resume “selected areas of military assistance for Indonesia.”
The statement continues to outline these selected areas, emphasizing military modernization as a priority:
“In resuming Foreign Military Financing, the Administration plans to provide assistance for specific military programs and units that will help modernize the Indonesian military, provide further incentives for reform of the Indonesian military, and support U.S. and Indonesian security objectives, including counterterrorism, maritime security and disaster relief. The U.S. remains committed to pressing for accountability for past human rights abuses, and U.S. assistance will continue to be guided by Indonesia’s progress on democratic reform and accountability.”
The Clinton administration had restricted military relations with Indonesia in 1991, when its government reacted violently against the peace movement in East Timor, a former Indonesian province. The killing of hundreds of civilians there in 1999 prompted further tightening of U.S. sanctions.
Prior to the State Dept. easing the restrictions, the U.S. in February 2005 shipped spare parts for five C-130 aircraft to Indonesia, according to this Jakarta Post article. The country said it needed the aircraft to transport relief and supplies to remote areas following the December 2004 tsunami, the story says. However, The Jakarta Post also points out that Indonesia had been technically able to purchase C-130 parts from the U.S. since 2002 (though it chose to purchase them elsewhere), and may be using relief efforts as a guise to ease human rights-based sanctions against its government.
Outside human rights concerns, it remains clear that Indonesia’s aircraft require further modernization. While Indonesia has access to parts for its U.S.-manufactured aircraft, the question remains whether it has the funding to operate them safely. A New York Times article responding to the 2005 move to ease the seven-year arms ban on Indonesia quotes a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The decision [to ease the ban] is emblematic of the United States’ confidence in President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyno,” he said. But, he noted, “The Indonesians don’t have any money to buy military equipment from the United States.”
BBC's crash coverage notes that the Indonesian air force is upgrading its Hercules fleet with airframe and engine capability improvements.
It also lists a series of recent accidents involving Indonesian air force aircraft. Last month, a Fokker 27 crashed in western Java, killing 24. Another Hercules overshot a runway in Papua on May 10, injuring one. On the commercial side, crashes in the past several years have killed more than 250 people, and Indonesia remains on the EU’s “blacklist” of carriers banned from its airspace due to safety concerns.