Tuesday 21 December 2021

An Eagle Takes Shape – Indonesia’s Elang Hitam MALE UCAV

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The Indonesian National Armed Forces are responsible for patrolling an archipelago of 17,000 islands that extend 5,150 kilometers from east to west. For this purpose, it operates a large number of patrol craft and maritime patrol aircraft to keep tabs on illegal entries and activities occurring within its territorial waters. Nonetheless, the sheer size of the archipelago, not to mention the land mass of the islands as well, makes it difficult to monitor. One other way this can be effectively achieved is through the deployment of large numbers of medium-altitude long-endurance MALE UAVs.

Indonesia already operates six CH-4B unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) acquired from China since 2019, and recently has also showed interest in the acquisition of Turkish drones. [1] [2] The country has also designed and produced a number of smaller UAV designs from the 2000s onwards. Only one of these, the PUNA Wulung, would enter operational service with the Indonesian Air Force. Nonetheless, the experience gained with the design and production of these drones has meanwhile spawned a small technology base for UAV designs in Indonesia.

In 2016, Indonesia's state-owned aerospace company PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) set out to design a domestic UCAV dubbed Elang Hitam (Black Eagle). [3] A mock-up was first unveiled to the public in December 2019. [4] The development of the Elang Hitam is set to progress in four phases (or Blocks). [3] Block 0 will test the drone's flying performance, Block L will incorporate an indigenous mission system and Block D will have an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) suite. The final block, Block C, will incorporate weaponry. The first and second blocks are still equipped with fixed landing gear while third and fourth block will make use of retractable landing gear.
The Elang Hitam is 8.65m long and has a wingspan of 16m (compared to 8.5m and 18m of the CH-4B). [3] The design specifications call for a payload capacity of 300kg, a service ceiling of 7km, an endurance of some 30 hours and an operational radius of up to 250km through line-of-sight propagation. The maximum take-off weight of 1,300kg is similar to that of the CH-4B, although it does feature a much lower maximum speed of (235 km/h vs 330km/h). [3] The endurance of the Elang Hitam is set to be significantly higher than that of the CH-4B (30 hours vs 14 hours).

The mock-up of the Elang Hitam presented in December 2019.

The Elang Hitam was originally supposed to begin flight trials in early 2020, although this was later delayed to late 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the 2nd of December 2021 the Elang Hitam Block 0 version finally made its first ground run. [5] Once the design and production of the other Blocks equipped with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) turret gets underway, the UAV could also be used to tackle the country's issue of forest fires in a similar manner to the Bayraktar TB2, helping to spot newly-started fires and to coordinate firefighting assets. [6]

The most successful UAV design to have come out of Indonesia is the Wulung by PTDI, the company that also designed the Elang Hitam. [7] Other UAV designs like the LSU-series by the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN), a state-owned space agency that has meanwhile been morphed into the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), have frequently been tested by the Indonesian Armed Forces but do not appear to have ever been acquired. Interestingly, the LSU-02 was even tested for use aboard Indonesian Navy corvettes, with the drone taking off from the helicopter deck and subsequently landing on a coventional runway on land. [8]

The Wulung UAV.

The LSU-series of UAVs designed by LAPAN.

Although it is still some years away from becoming an operational system, the Elang Hitam is certainly a promising design. If it is to enter operational service, Indonesia will not only have been the first country in Southeast Asia to operate UCAVs in the form of Chinese-made CH-4Bs, but also the first country to introduce an indigenous MALE U(C)AV. That said, ambitious Indonesian aviation projects have frequently faced termination after financial difficulties, cancelling promising projects such as the IPTN N-250 turboprop airliner. Therefore, for this eagle's fortune's to soar it will first have to prove its worth amongst internationally successful alternatives.

[2] Endonezya Ankara Büyükelçisi Dr. Lalu Muhammad Iqbal: Türkiye ile Endonezya arasındaki savunma iş birliği artacak https://www.savunmatr.com/ozel-haber/endonezya-ankara-buyukelcisi-dr-lalu-muhammad-iqbal-turkiye-ile-h15336.html
[6] An Unmanned Firefighter: The Bayraktar TB2 Joins The Call https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/08/an-unmanned-firefighter-bayraktar-tb2.html
[7] UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) WULUNG https://www.indonesian-aerospace.com/techdev/index/set/uav
[8] LSU-02 LAPAN : UAV Pertama yang Take Off dari Kapal Perang TNI AL https://www.indomiliter.com/lsu-02-lapan-uav-pertama-yang-take-off-dari-kapal-perang-tni-al/