Hadi Tjahjanto

The air chief marshal shaking up Indonesia’s military

Once head of Indonesia's air force, air chief marshal Hadi Tjahjanto has been appointed to lead the country's armed forces, an institution that is deeply interwoven with the nation's politics

Musaazi Namiti
February 26, 2018
The air chief marshal shaking up Indonesia’s military
The new Indonesian military chief Hadi Tjahjanto waves during his swearing in ceremony at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia Photo: Bagus Indahono/EPA-EFE
Who is he?

Air chief marshal Hadi Tjahjanto is a career military officer and a fighter pilot. He was appointed in December by President Joko Widodo to head Indonesia’s army, replacing general Gatot Nurmantyo who had been in the job for a little more than two years. Tjahjanto, 53, is said to have close ties to the president and was previously the commander of the Adi Sumarmo air force base in the city of Solo, on the island of Java, when Widodo was its mayor. He also served as the Defence Ministry’s inspector-general.

Why is he in the news?

As head of Indonesia’s army, which has traditionally been an integral part of the ruling elite, Tjahjanto’s work often attracts media attention. One of his first actions in his new role was to block the promotion and rotation of 16 high-ranking officers ordered by his predecessor, Gatot Nurmantyo, who is due to retire in April. When he reversed the promotions, the new army chief said strategic operational command posts had to go to officers who are trusted by the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Tjahjanto has also vowed to have an accident rate of zero in the air force and says he is committed to developing military personnel who are professional, disciplined, combat-ready and humble.

Why was he appointed?

The decision to appoint Tjahjanto was driven by politics, according to Indonesia analysts. Widodo apparently wanted someone who can do his bidding but wouldn’t work behind the scenes to take the top job. Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace told Southeast Asia Globe that Widodo wanted to control the military because, in Indonesia, the military “wants to be in politics, in power”. He added that Tjahjanto’s predecessor, Nurmantyo, showed ambition and wanted to become the next president of Indonesia. “He was one of the guys who were behind the mass demonstrations during the governor of Jakarta elections. So he was one of the strong contenders against Widodo, and this is why Widodo replaced him.”

Illustration by Antiochus Omissi

How has he been received so far?
Naipospos said the “public perception of him so far, if we’re to look at the media coverage of him in Indonesia, is positive”. He added that the public views Tjahjanto as “polite, humble and well spoken”

What challenges does he face?
Although he says he is committed to building a professional army, Tjahjanto has to grapple with limited finances. “The budget for the military is not enough. This information I got from some military experts,” said Naipospos, adding that soldiers live on meagre salaries. In 2016, defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the military needed more combat and transportation aircraft, although defence spending for 2017 had been significantly reduced.

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