After India, US Offers Help To Locate Indonesian Submarine Missing Near China-Claimed Waters

An Indonesian Navy submarine with 53 crew members on board went missing during a military exercise in the Bali Sea early Wednesday. Indonesia said Russia, Turkey, France, India, Germany, and Australia have offered to help locate the missing submarine.

The last known location of the Cakra-class Nanggala submarine would be 60 miles off the Bali coast and about 900 miles away from the Natuna Islands, the waters around which are claimed by China.

US Defense Chief Lloyd Austin will speak with his Indonesia counterpart Prabowo Subianto to discuss how the United States can assist in the search for a missing military submarine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement.

“[Secretary of Defense Lloyd] Austin is scheduled to speak with his counterpart, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto tomorrow morning to convey our sorrow and to discuss how else the United States can be of assistance,” Kirby said on Thursday.

Kirby also confirmed that the United States is sending airborne assets to assist Indonesia in search efforts for the missing submarine.

The Indonesia Navy currently has five vessels and a helicopter involved in the search operation, which has come across several oil spills in different locations.

Indonesia – China Issues?

Last year, the Indonesian Navy held a four-day exercise in the South China Sea. A portion of the exercise was conducted near Natuna Islands, where Chinese vessels are a common sight. The borders of the exclusive economic zone around Natuna overlap with the “nine-dash line” map claimed by China, according to Nikkei Asia.

Jakarta had shot off a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in May last year, saying it was “not bound” by the Chinese nine-dash-line claim, which “lacks international legal basis.” It also rejected Beijing’s offers to negotiate the so-called “overlapping claims”.

The Southeast Asian nation plans to add 3 more submarines to its existing fleet of 5 underwater vessels by 2024, amid growing maritime challenges, especially from China.

Around 4:30 am local time on Wednesday, the submarine lost contact after it had been authorized to dive into deeper waters while conducting an anti-submarine warfare torpedo drill.

The German-made submarine Type 209/1300 class diesel-electric attack submarine went through large-scale refitting in South Korea about ten years ago. It has the capacity to carry 14 AEG SUT heavyweight torpedoes at a time in its eight 533mm bow tubes.

The oxygen supply to the submarine is enough for three more days, the Jakarta Post newspaper reported on Thursday, citing the military.

“The submarine’s oxygen reserve capacity in a blackout is 72 hours,” Military commander Yudo Margono said, as quoted by Jakarta Post.

Aerial surveillance picked up an oil spill around 7 am near the last known location of the vessel giving a hint on what might have happened. Indonesian Navy spokesman First Adm. Julius Widjojono stated that it is highly likely that the oil spill came from the submarine.

Authorities suspect the submarine, despite having only the capacity to go 500 meters below sea level, went 100-200 meters beyond that threshold. Another issue could have been its outdated equipment.

Indonesian warships fitted with side-scan sonar are leading the rescue operations. International help also came from the navies of Singapore and Australia who are coordinating with the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office. India has also offered its assistance.

Growing Chinese Threats

A Chinese coast guard ship was driven off Indonesian waters last September. Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, had told the South China Morning Post that “the presence of Chinese coastguard vessels and Chinese fishing boats in waters off the Natuna Islands has increased”.

In light of the growing threat, Indonesia has agreed to deepen its defense cooperation with QUAD members, such as Japan and the US to safeguard its rights. The QUAD, an alliance of India, Australia, the US, and Japan, have pledged themselves to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Most alarming for Indonesia was the discovery of a Chinese Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) by an Indonesian fisherman last December, implying illegal surveillance by Beijing in foreign waters.

In light of such discoveries, Indonesia began construction this month on a submarine ‘support station’ in the Lampa Strait, near the South China Sea. A base near the disputed water body could aid Indonesian submarines to detect Chinese vessels before they enter Indonesian territory.

India Offers Help

Indian Navy has sent its Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel (DSRV) will help the Indonesian Navy locate the missing find its submarine, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday spoke with his Indonesian counterpart.

Singh on Thursday tweeted, “Spoke to the Defence Minister of Indonesia, General Prabowo Subianto, over the phone and shared my pain over the news of missing submarine Nanggala and its crew members. India is extending its full support to the ongoing Indonesian rescue efforts.

The Defence Ministry said Singh told Subianto, “As a well-wisher and a Defence Minister myself, I can feel the pain and anguish…. I have already directed the Indian Navy to move its Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel to Indonesia. I have also tasked the Indian Air Force to see the feasibility of induction of the DSRV intervention system by air.”

Singh asserted that India is “committed to assist our strategic partners during times of necessity”.