Prashanth Parameswaran – On December 30, in a notable first, Indonesia unveiled a prototype of an indigenous medium-range strike capable drone. While the development was just one among many in the development of the Southeast Asian state's military capabilities, it nonetheless spotlighted its strategic and operational significance.
Like other major Asian states, over the past few years, Indonesia has been developing drones as part of a wide range of military capabilities, with Indonesian defense officials recognizing the need for drones to increase the country's ability to fully monitor its vast airspace and coastline and to manage manifold security challenges. Apart from acquiring drones from other countries, Jakarta has also been looking to develop its own indigenous capabilities as well which has continued under Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi' Widodo.
This week, Indonesia's development of drones was in the spotlight again with the unveiling of prototypes its first medium-range, strike-capable drone. Indonesia's state-owned aerospace company PT Dirgantara (PTDI) disclosed details regarding a strike-capable, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on 30 December.
The prototypes of the strike-capable MALE UAV, dubbed the Elang Hitam (Black Eagle) was unveiled to the public at PTDI facilities in Bandung. Per specifications provided by PTDI, it is 8.65 meters long, 2.6 meters high, and has a wingspan of 16 meters, and it is capable of cruising up to 20,000 feet and at the highest speed of 235 kilometers per hour, and staying in the air for up to 30 hours.
The unveiling of the new UAV is not without significance. With this development, as Indonesian media outlets noted following the launch, Indonesia has moved closer to cementing its place on the list of countries producing such MALE UAVs.
In addition, the development is also a manifestation of Jakarta's effort to boost its domestic defense industry, with the drone being indigenously developed via a consortium that included entities such as state-owned electronics company PT Len, the Indonesian Air Force, and the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space.
More specifically, the MALE UAVs can also help boost Indonesia's capabilities in several aspects to address manifold security challenges. As PTDI mentioned at the unveiling, the drone can assist with respect to several challenges including piracy, smuggling, terrorism, forest fires, and territorial incursions into Indonesia.
To be sure, a more robust assessment of the significance of this development will only be possible over time. The new drone is still in the manufacturing development stage, and PTDI president director Elfien Goentoro made clear at the unveiling that specifics, including design details, the exact target date for the first flight expected in 2020, and the certification completion dates for the two prototypes were all yet to be confirmed and could be years out into the future. Nonetheless, given the importance of this development, one can expect it to be continued to be watched closely in the months and years to come.
[Prashanth Parameswaran is Senior Editor at The Diplomat based in Washington, D.C., where he produces analysis on Southeast Asian political and security issues, Asian defense affairs, and U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific.]