SYDNEY — Aircraft from Australia, the United States and Indonesia will begin three weeks of military exercises over Australia's Northern Territory later this week. The combat air drills are the largest and most complex held in the continent.
Australian, U.S. and Indonesian aircraft will join others from Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand for simulated combat maneuvers over Australia’s Northern Territory later this week.
Jakarta is sending its front-line Sukhoi jet fighters to take part, a move that analysts say heralds a new age of co-operation between the two Asia-Pacific neighbors.
Rory Medcalf is the director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think-tank.
“This is an exercise that has traditionally involved countries with quite close defense relations with Australia, a fairly high degree of trust when you are bringing really your best combat aircraft into pretty close contact with one another’s," said Medcalf. "So the fact that Indonesia is bringing combat aircraft to Australia for this exercise is a sign of improving trust in the defense relationship."
Canberra's military ties with Jakarta have been strained over recent decades. Relations were severely tested in 1999, when Australian forces were sent to East Timor to quell violence by militia groups opposing its secession from Indonesia.
In recent years the relationship has improved, largely because of the response to terrorist attacks, including twin bomb blasts that killed 202 people on the holiday island of Bali in 2002, and natural disasters in Indonesia.
Medcalf says that Indonesia’s involvement in war games with Australian and US forces will give Washington encouragement that Jakarta will not oppose its plans for greater military engagement with Asia.
“There are people in the United States who would like see Indonesia as the new India; that is a strategic partner who is not quite an ally but who is broadly onside with the American military presence in Asia, a country with a democratic outlook, a country that supports free trade and sea lines of communication, protecting the freedom of navigation that the Americans want so much," stated Medcalf. "So I think the Americans would like to see Indonesia as part of their Asian strategy.”
Exercise Pitch Black runs from July 27 to August 17. The multinational event has taken place every two years for the past two decades but this year’s operation will be the biggest yet.
A military spokesman said up to 85 aircraft and more than 2000 personnel will be participating.