The History of the Indonesian Submarine Squadron
By Rear Adm. Agung Pramono, S.H., M. Hum
Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic state, comprising more than 17,000 islands and large areas of water linking them together as one unity and making Indonesia one of the most influential maritime nations. A strong national defense, achieved by reinforcing naval capabilities, is critical to defending Indonesian sovereignty and ensuring the stability of Indonesian territorial seas.
As a military institution that is responsible for defending the country, the Indonesian Navy requires human resources and weapons systems to bolster its function and to accomplish the mission. The Indonesian Navy has more than 140 warships of various types and classes, which are divided into two fleets and one military sealift command. The Eastern and Western Fleets are composed of several squadrons, including one submarine squadron in the Eastern Fleet.
The Indonesian Navy has long experience in operating submarines. For a significant period in the 1960s and 1970s, Indonesia operated the most powerful submarine force in the Asia-Pacific region, excepting the Cold War superpowers: 12 Whiskey-class submarines, two torpedo retrievers, and one submarine tender, all purchased from the Soviet Union. By comparison, no other Southeast Asian nation possessed a submarine force of any size, and in 1967 the Royal Australian Navy had only six submarines, of the Oberon class.
The Indonesian Navy received its first submarine, KRI Tjakra (401), from the USSR on 12 September 1959. This first submarine was commanded by Commander O.P. Koesno. Its delivery was a milestone in the creation of the Indonesian Submarine Force, and 12 September was designated as the Indonesian Submarine Squadron Day to commemorate the date that the Indonesian Navy began operating these advanced war machines with both strategic value and deterrent effect.
During the 1960s, in the heyday of the Whiskey class, these superb underwater units were used to regain West Papua from Dutch colonial control. There were three submarine deployments during the military operation—called JAYA WIJAYA 1—against the Dutch forces in the West Papua. KRI Nagabanda (403), KRI Trisula (402), and KRI Tjandrasa (408) successfully launched an attack on the Dutch forces in the West Papua area; in operation TJAKRA II, Tjandrasa managed to infiltrate the enemy’s area to land a group of Indonesian Special Forces on the island. For the success of that operation, the Indonesian Government awarded Tjandrasa and her crew with the prestigious “Bintang Sakti” medal. To the present day, Tjandrasa is the only naval vessel to have been awarded the medal. In April 1963, in operation VISHNU MUKTI, KRl Nagarangsang (404), KRl Tjundamani (411), and KRI Alugoro (406) again conducted a ‘show of force’ in West Papua waters.
Thanks to those 12 submarines, the Indonesian Navy at that time was considered to be one of the most powerful naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region—making Indonesia a regional power and serving as a source of pride and self confidence for her people.
KRI Nanggala (402) during Passing Exercise with
USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723)
The declining relationship between the Republic of Indonesia and the Soviet Union in 1965—resulting from Indonesian government action against the rebellion of the Indonesian Communist Party—led to a spare parts crisis in the Navy, which affected the submarines. To maintain an operational force, the Indonesian Navy decommissioned several submarines and used their parts to repair the remaining vessels. Since then, the number of the Navy’s submarines declined steadily. The last remaining Whiskey-class submarine, KRI Pasopati (410), was decommissioned on 25 January 1990 and now serves as a submarine museum in downtown Surabaya.
In 1978, prior to the decommissioning of Pasopati, Indonesia procured two Type 209/1300 submarines from West Germany—KRI Cakra (401) and KRI Nanggala (402)—to maintain the security of Indonesian territorial waters. These two German submarines have been overhauled several times in Germany, South Korea, and Indonesia.
As an archipelagic country with vast areas to cover, Indonesia requires a large number of naval vessels, including submarines, to maintain national security and sovereignty in and around its waters. Having learned from its previous experiences, the Indonesian Navy has planned to gradually increase the size of its submarine force in the years to come. To begin, it has ordered three Type 209/1500 submarines from South Korea. The Navy expects to restore the glory of its naval forces, including its submarine squadron.