U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Indonesia Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto sign a defense cooperation plan in Jakarta, Indonesia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Indonesia Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto sign a defense cooperation plan in Jakarta, Indonesia. Defense One / Lauren C. Williams

US, Indonesia expand defense cooperation, starting with cyber and space

It’s part of a larger effort across the region where cyber vulnerabilities are “a real point of concern,” a defense official said.

JAKARTA, Indonesia—The U.S. wants to help shore up Indonesia’s military cyber defenses and space capabilities as part of a newly upgraded defense cooperation plan, defense officials announced Thursday.

“As we train with allies and partners, we want to make sure that we're helping them bring their capabilities along as well,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Defense Ministers meetings. “They won't all be at the same place as we are, obviously, but we can begin to help them understand the value of having capability in these domains, and develop those capabilities.”

Cyber is an area where even a smaller country can be effective and helpful to other allies and partners with limited capabilities, Austin said.

The move is part of a broader effort across the Indo-Pacific—particularly Southeast Asia—where a senior defense official said countries see cyber vulnerabilities as “a real point of concern, including for their critical infrastructure” and the role armed forces play in cyber defense.

“As we look at enhancing our defense relationship, into working on new exercises, closer technological cooperation, that kind of cyber defense is really important,” the official said. “Because we think it's very important if we actually want to move more broadly, the defense relationship into more sensitive areas.”

The upgraded U.S.-Indonesia defense cooperation agreement also includes an effort to boost military exercises—part of a growing trend with U.S. relationships in the region. 

“We started 2023 by announcing the expansion of our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines to add four new sites, for a total of nine sites,” Austin told reporters. “You’ve also seen us grow the scope and scale of our exercises with partners across Southeast Asia.”

The U.S.-Indonesia agreement supports cyber capacity building, such as training for Indonesia’s military, but doesn’t include offensive cyber elements at this time. The State Department is also providing cyber support for the country. 

As for space, Austin said there is a lot of room to grow and many countries are eager to learn. 

“In space, I mean, there's a lot of development that needs to happen, going forward,” Austin said. “But certainly, countries are interested in that…They're interested in learning more about what they would need to do in order to develop a capability. And so I think we're having the right conversations, we're doing the right things with training, and countries are excited about that. They want more of that.”

Still, resources are needed to fuel that development. 

“When you talk about space, none of that capability is cheap, but …there are opportunities for countries to partner with us, to work with each other and develop nascent capabilities,” he said, adding that some terrestrial capabilities could affect the space domain.

The focus on space capabilities reflects an increasingly complex military environment. The Space Force did its first international air exercise last year, zooming in on electronic warfare and in-orbit threats. The U.S. has also been looking to weave space elements and coordination into exercises with Southeast Asian partners, including the Philippines and Indonesia, a senior defense official said.