Made in Indonesia: First long-range military drone unveiled in Bandung

Arya Dipa, The Jakarta Post
Bandung / Tue, December 31, 2019
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A number of invited guests closely examine a prototype of a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone developed by a consortium of Indonesian companies, ministries, agencies and educational institutions. The MALE was unveiled to the public at a hangar of PT Dirgantara Indonesia in Bandung, West Java, on Monday. (JP/Arya Dipa)

Indonesia can now be included on the list of countries producing long-range military drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

While various companies in Indonesia have been producing drones for both civilian and military purposes, this would be the first medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV to be produced by the country. Vehicles in this category are designed to fly at altitudes of between 3,000 and 9,000 meters for extended lengths of time.

The UAV’s airframe, with wings that span 16 meters, was revealed in the hangar of state-owned aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) in Bandung, West Java on Monday.

The drones would be designed according to the requirements and objectives provided by the Indonesian Air Force, PTDI president director Elfien Goentoro has said. He added that the Air Force had requested the UAV to have a maximum flight time of 30 hours and a maximum cruising speed of 235 kilometres per hour.

The drone, which is designed to carry 450 litres of fuel, can carry a maximum payload of 30 kilograms. It is to use an aircraft engine made by the Rotax company of Austria.

Development of the vehicle was initiated in 2015 by a consortium consisting of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), the Defense Ministry, the Indonesian Air Force, the Bandung Institute of Technology, PTDI and PT Len Industri.

The consortium has also been supported by the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan), which is experienced in producing smaller UAVs such as the LSU-02.

Aside from the airframe, the consortium would also produce the necessary systems for the MALE drone, BPPT head Hammam Riza said.

“We should master some key technologies, not only the production of UAV’s airframe. If we purchase [UAVs] from other countries, they won’t give [key technologies] to us for free. Therefore, we need to master and make use of our own technology,” Hammam told journalists on Monday.

He added that the project would support the state in developing its own weapons and defense systems.

The UAV, Hammam said, could be used not only in military combat missions but also in aerial surveillance missions pertaining to illegal fishing and logging, border and outer island patrols and to detect terrorist activities.

The UAV project involves the development of a flight control system produced in Spain. The system is to be integrated into the vehicle by engineers from BPPT and PT Dirgantara Indonesia.

Other necessary systems for the vehicle, such as a synthetic aperture radar and a guidance system, would also be developed by Indonesian engineers. The systems are expected to support the drone in intelligence, target acquisition and reconnaissance missions.

Lapan’s deputy for aviation and space technology, Rika Andiarti, said the institute was assigned to develop the vehicle’s mission control, which would include its flight control system, long-range communications and recording.

“We’re also assigned to develop the synthetic aperture radar so we can look beyond the clouds and produce better images,” Rika said. She added that Lapan had allocated Rp 23 billion (US$1.6 million) for the project in 2020.

Separately, the head of Lapan’s aeronautics technology centre, Gunawan Setyo Wibowo, said the drone’s operations would be supported by the BRI Satellite, which is owned by state-owned Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI). The world’s first bank-owned satellite was launched from French Guiana in June 2016.

Lapan has been using the service of United Arab Emirates-based private satellite operator Thuraya to operate its drones. However, Thuraya provided a small bandwidth that can only be used to send telemetrics or still images because of its high cost.

“If we use the BRISat, we can look at real-time images captured by the drone thanks to its larger Ku-band bandwidth. After all, there are some transponders designated for the state business in the satellite,” Gunawan said.

There are to be four UAV prototypes built for various purposes by 2024: development manufacturing, flight and structural tests at the BPPT for certification, static tests and combat and weapons certification.

PTDI’s Elfien added that he was optimistic the consortium would meet the requirement of 50 percent locally made components. (kuk)

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