Indonesia's military search for AirAsia spotlights strength

by Will Hall |

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Christian Examiner) -- Indonesia has put its military forces on display in the search and recovery effort to locate the crashed AirAsia Flight QZ8501, responding to a national tragedy and polishing its image as the "big brother" among the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—a political and economic alliance among ten nations.

The fourth most populated country in the world, Indonesia has been overshadowed militarily in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific by China and India, although it controls one of the most strategic shipping channels in the world. The Strait of Malacca is the key sea link between the Indian and Pacific Oceans—and especially critical to the economies of South Korea, China, India and Japan—with about one-fourth of the world's traded goods passing through this narrow sea lane each year.

But the air disaster has given Indonesia a chance to highlight its military capabilities with the world watching and it has dedicated extensive air, sea and ground forces to the search effort.

(Official photo)Indonesian landing platform dock ship KRI Banda Aceh (LPD 593) has been assigned to participate in the search and recovery operations for AirAsia Flight QZ8501. Here the ship is shown departing Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. Twenty-two nations, more than 49 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC.

Two maritime reconnaissance aircraft that are part of the search efforts are "equipped with radar and sophisticated cameras" that can detect with detail any objects in the water, according to a statement released by the Naval Information Office.

The country also has deployed eleven warships along with a Navy dive team, Army frogmen and three units of special operations forces. The military operations also include at least 675 troops combined from all Indonesian military services and are "deployed to search in the woods around the approximate location of the crash."

The official statement also said warships assigned to this mission have the ability to "target pulse" the missing plane's emergency locator transmitter.

The tragic loss of the civilian airliner happened just days after the head of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, General Moeldoko (many Indonesians use only one name for identification), said his mission was to grow the military "to be the 'big brother'" among its ASEAN partners of Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam.

In this effort, he has positioned Indonesia's armed forces as an important hedge against threats to ASEAN.  

According to an article in The Diplomat, Moeldoko said one of the challenges facing the alliance is China's ongoing military modernization, "if its growing prowess gives rise to instablity in Southeast Asia."

Earlier today, the National Search and Rescue Agency reported the recovery of 40 bodies and personal effects as well as debris from the crashed flight.

Although the precise location of the wreckage was not given, official statements indicate the place is exactly known. Moeldoko said at a press conference, only hours ago, he would dispatch 47 divers to begin recovery efforts Wednesday morning.

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