Asia, Defense, Top Stories

Indonesia taps US lobby shop for $125 billion arms spending spree

Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense has hired a Washington law firm that specializes in military procurement as it eyes a $125 billion spending spree on new weapons over the next three years.

Ott, Bielitzki & O’Neill is expected to provide “legal and regulatory advice” for the ministry, including “preparing briefing material for use with U.S. government officials related to U.S. defense procurement requests.” The contract, which was signed June 14, is for $25,000 per month for an undetermined length of time.

“The Client is retaining our firm to provide legal counsel and U.S. government relations counsel regarding the procurement of technology and defense-related systems for use by the Indonesian Ministry of Defense,” the contract reads. “Our work will be to advise the Client on U.S. legal matters and U.S. government export control

As part of the engagement, the firm may lobby US officials including congressional offices and the Department of Defense on export control matters related to Indonesia’s procurement requests. The contract was signed by the firm’s managing partner Christopher Ott and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. It is Indonesia’s only current lobbying contract.

The push comes as regional media reported earlier this month that a draft decree from President Joko Widodo‘s office calls on the country to spend $125 billion on upgrading and modernizing the country’s military arsenal before the end of Widodo’s second term in office in 2024. The effort gained new urgency after an Indonesian submarine sank off the coast of Bali in April, killing all 53 crew on board.

“Investment made during the 2021-2024 period will increase Indonesia’s bargaining position to obtain defense equipment at more affordable prices,” Prabowo spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak wrote in a recent series of tweets. “In addition, because the investment is made in a relatively short time, it can be ascertained that all equipment purchased will be interoperable.”

Indonesia’s Defense Ministry indicated earlier this year that it planned to acquire four Boeing F-15 EX jets, the latest version of the fourth-generation fighter, in 2022. But the country has also been considering buying kit from other countries including US rivals Russia and China, prompting warnings from the Joe Biden administration.

“All proposed defense sales and transfers are assessed on their individual merits and on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Arms Export Control Act, the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, and other related law, regulation, and policy guidance, which accounts for a broad range of political and economic considerations,” a State Department spokesperson told Foreign Lobby Report in an emailed statement. “That includes human rights considerations as well as the need to safeguard sensitive U.S. origin defense technologies, which, under this Administration, play a central role in these decisions.”


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Prabowo began laying the groundwork for the latest round of US arms purchases last year when he met with then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Washington as the Donald Trump administration sought to court Indonesia away from China. The trip sparked objections from human rights groups and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) because the former special forces commander had previously been barred from entry into the US because of alleged human rights abuses. Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller in turn visited Indonesia in December.

Ott is registered as a foreign agent on the contract along with senior policy adviser for national security and defense Thomas Ferguson and director of government relations Laura O’Neill Ott. The firm is also registered as a foreign agent for Qatari-owned aerospace company Barzan Aeronautical, which is building spy planes in Charleston, South Carolina.