Analysts say the country is too dependent on foreign suppliers.Ben Ho, Today Online
16 December 2016
Indonesia is developing its own unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) in a bid to enhance its maritime security, but experts say it faces major challenges in the developmental stage and may not make a big difference even if it is in service.
The indigenous submarine platform, known as the Kaledupa, boasts modern underwater sensors and has an operating depth of 150m, the Jakarta Post reported on Wednesday. It was tested in waters off Sulawesi on Sunday.
Brigadier-General Jan Pieter Ate, director of defence industry and technology at the Indonesia Defence Ministry, told the Post that “during the test, (the) Kaledupa managed to prove all of its advantages. We hope this new technological development will reduce our dependency on foreign weapon systems”.
To develop and operate UUVs effectively requires a technological base more commonly found in highly advanced countries. Given Indonesia’s low defence industrial base, it remains to be seen if the Kaledupa project would be viable.
Naval expert Collin Koh told TODAY that the initiative is feasible in theory at least, given that it could utilise a wide variety of commercially available dual-use technologies.
However, the research fellow with the Maritime Security Programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) added: “What remains to be seen is whether the Indonesian government will sustain the funding for this project until the system reaches full operational capability and is put into broader naval service.
“From what I understand, despite repeated calls for the Indonesian military to obtain more locally made products, there’s still a preference for foreign designs in many cases.
“Moreover, government support for local defence research and development can be said to be uneven across sectors.”
Defence analyst Richard Bitzinger is even more guarded in his assessment of the Kaledupa programme. He noted that developing indigenous defence technology requires reaching out to foreign firms and this would complicate the developmental process.
“That, in turn, raises issues of technology transfer as the more sophisticated the technology, the greater the restrictions that are likely to be applied to such transfers,” explained Mr Bitzinger, who is the coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at RSIS.
In view of the challenges faced in developing an indigenous UUV, Mr Bitzinger envisaged a “steep learning curve” for the Indonesians.
If Jakarta does manage to overcome this steep learning curve, would the Kaledupa make any difference operationally?
For one, what is known about the platform certainly does not amount to a breakthrough. After all, its quoted operating depth of 150m is just half of what some Western UUVs are capable of, Dr Koh observed.
Moreover, Mr Bitzinger cautioned that based on current technology, the use of UUVs for naval missions such as mine-hunting and undersea surveillance is generally quite limited.
And although Dr Koh noted that UUVs mated with submarines would “extend the capabilities of navies and allow more discreet intelligence-gathering missions, putting crews out of harm’s way”, this in itsself is a major technical and operational challenge that the Indonesian navy would have to overcome.