Combat Exercises in Southeast Asia (II)

Berlin expands Bundeswehr activities in Southeast Asia and participates in joint exercises with Indonesia. Jakarta is resolutely unwilling to be pitted against China.

JAKARTA/BERLIN (Own report) – The German government is seeking to enhance Germany’s military presence in Southeast Asia and is launching joint exercises with Indonesia. Currently, German military are observing the Super Garuda Shield exercise, being carried out by Indonesia and the United States. It also includes soldiers from Japan, France and Great Britain. On their planned Asia- Pacific tour next year, a German naval frigate and supply vessel will exercise with Indonesian war ships. In that region, the German Bundeswehr, over the last two years, is mainly focused on participating in large-scale maneuvers in Australia, while making minor detours to Japan and South Korea. Germany has made initial attempts to also get a foothold in Southeast Asia through military cooperation with Singapore. The USA and Germany are jointly seeking to pit the Southeast Asian states against China. Indonesia is not willing to take this path. Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto recently announced in Washington that he will soon visit Moscow and Beijing: We want to befriend all countries.

Super Garuda Shield 2023

The Garuda Shield maneuver, a joint Indonesia/USA war exercise, has been taking place since 2009. Beginning last year, when units from other countries also participated for the first time, it was given the name Super Garuda Shield. This year’s exercises, that last from August 31 to September 13, with around 1,900 Indonesian and about 2,100 US troops involves additional troops from Australia, Japan, Singapore, France and Great Britain.[1] This exercise is also aimed at enhancing the interoperability capabilities, the main prerequisite for being able to carry out joint military combat operations. For example, an amphibious exercise, as well as airborne operations, airfield seizure exercises, and combined joint field training will be carried out. It was reported that the exercises will also include the waters around the Natuna islands in the South China Sea – waters near the islands claimed by China. Altogether twelve countries have sent observers to the Super Garuda Shield 2023, including Brazil, India; South Korea, the Philippines – and Germany.

Maneuver-Focus Australia

Germany continues to pursue its efforts to develop a stronger military foothold in the Asia-Pacific region by participating in the maneuver as an observer. So far, the focus of the Bundeswehr’s activities has been Australia. That is where the Frigate Bayern had visited in late 2021 as part of the German Navy’s first Asia-Pacific cruise.[2] In 2022, a German Air Force squadron flew to Australia for large-scale maneuvers.[3] In 2023, the German Army made its entrée on that continent, with its participation in the quite large-scale Australia-USA directed Talisman Sabre 2023 maneuver – an ostentatious exercise of military operations against the People’s Republic of China. ( reported.[4]) Berlin has announced the renewed dispatchment of a German Navy frigate and a supply vessel to the Pacific for the coming year. In addition, the German Bundeswehr has already expanded its activities to include smaller exercises in other countries of the region, which were carried out within the framework of detours made on the way to and from Australia – mainly in Japan, in South Korea and in Singapore.

Military Activities in Singapore

Germany is seeking to expand its activities into Southeast Asia via Singapore. The city state is considered pro-West. It is the only country of the region participating in the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. It also has a special geostrategic significance. It is situated at the Strait of Malacca, an important strait through which East Asian trade with African, Middle Eastern and European countries pass. Singapore is an important customer for German military products. The country’s tank units are also training at military training areas in Germany. Since 2019, a liaison officer of the German Navy is stationed at the Information Fusion Center (IFC) in Singapore, a facility where information pertaining to regional maritime security is exchanged, such as information on smuggling, piracy and maritime terrorism.[5] Just recently, the German IFC liaison officer and two other members of the German Navy, participated, for the second time since May 2022 in the South East Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercises, annually held in Singapore. Under the leadership of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, measures such as boarding foreign vessels were discussed and exercised.[6]

War Exercises with Indonesia

Berlin is also striving for a firmer foothold in Indonesia in terms of armaments and military policy, as a means of further expanding its Southeast Asia presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Over the past few years, Germany has expanded its arms exports to Indonesia. Already, in 2013, the arms manufacturers Rheinmetall received approval for the delivery of 164 armored vehicles to Jakarta, including more than 100 Leopard 2A6s. In 2018, the German government approved the export of two Abeking & Rasmussen minehunter vessels, which were delivered this past May.[7] During German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius’ June 5 meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta, he held out the possibility of delivering two A400M military transport planes to Indonesia. According to reports, this type of delivery could mark the “initiation of a major A400M program.”[8] Pistorius additionally insisted on a rapid expansion of military cooperation – particularly joint maneuver activities. German warships being sent next year to the Pacific, should carry out joint maneuvers with Indonesia’s Navy. Germany’s observer status at the Super Garuda Shield 2023 is considered a beginning of cooperation in maneuvers.

No Arena for Rivalry

However, Jakarta stubbornly refuses to accept a primary objective being pursued by Berlin and Washington with their joint maneuvers with Indonesia. The US and Germany are seeking to tightly bind Indonesia to the West and pit that country against China – also using their joint combat maneuvers. The Indonesian government is not prepared to go down that path. Thus, following a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austen, Prabowo made clear that even though Jakarta wants to have good relations with Washington, he underlined, however, “that we also have very good relations with China.”[9] And we “seek friendship with Russia.” “I will visit Moscow, I also have an invitation to visit Beijing in October,” announced Prabowo. “We want to befriend all countries.” This was confirmed at the ASEAN Summit yesterday in Jakarta by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo. The entire ASEAN alliance, the ten member countries of Southeast Asia “have agreed not to become a proxy for any power,” declared Jokowi: ASEAN cooperates with any countries for peace and prosperity. No one is allowed to make the alliance “an arena of destructive rivalry.”[10] Jakarta insists on its neutrality.


[1] Niniek Karmini: US, Indonesia and 5 other nations hold war drills amid China concerns. 01.09.2023.

[2] See also Die Fregatte Bayern auf Kolonialfahrt.

[3] See also Die zweite Front der Bundeswehr.

[4] See also Das Deutsche Heer am Pazifik (II) and Deutschland im Pazifik-Militärblock.

[5] See also Combat Exercises in Southeast Asia.

[6] Übung in Singapur zur maritimen Sicherheit. 31.08.2023.

[7] German Defense Minister Offers Indonesia To Hold Joint Military Exercises. 05.06.2023.

[8] Matthias Gebauer: Pistorius stellt Indonesien zwei A400-Militärflieger in Aussicht. 05.06.2023.

[9] No joint statement with US on China’s South China Sea claims: Subianto. 31.08.2023.

[10] Commencing 43rd Summit, President Jokowi Calls for Equality. 05.09.2023.