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Indonesia Is Exploring Rocket Technology

December 10, 2020

The largest country in the ASEAN bloc is now taking the small but necessary steps for establishing a local space program. On December 2, a Wednesday, a single RX450-5 “experimental rocket” was launched and reached an undisclosed altitude. Indonesia’s aerospace research agency LAPAN claimed in its press release the RX450-5 is capable of flying up to 100 kilometers and a future two-stage rocket model may reach 200 km. Though modest in its goals LAPAN considers its work essential to the “welfare and security” of Indonesia.

The RX450-50 conforms to a very basic layout, its booster ringed by a quartet of stabilizer fins and its airframe or body is affixed with a conical tip, and LAPAN revealed the rocket had a 450mm diameter to fit its launch system mounted on a trailer. An official connected with the program later added “we are trying to establish research collaborations with other countries…our big vision is that Indonesia is capable of launching a satellite with its own rockets.”

In a press release following the December 2 test flight LAPAN acknowledged the development of rocket technology did have applications for “defense” without elaborating further. This is understandable since space programs at any scale are intertwined with advances in military technology; the process of delivering payloads into orbit is applicable to ballistic missiles. But an actual missile program directed by the Indonesian armed forces is non-existent and foreign suppliers are still needed to equip the TNI for its various missions. Neither is the RX450-50 a true dual-use rocket model since its current layout makes it unsuitable for offensive purposes.

If LAPAN did spinoff the RX450-50 into another model with a guidance system (usually inertial navigation) and a warhead, the resulting large diameter rocket needs a carrier vehicle mounting its own launch system. Adopting a complete mobile rocket artillery system that fits this description costs time and money for development. Among ASEAN militaries, however, the TNI boast a sizable inventory of short-range battlefield rockets supplied by the Czech Republic and Brazil. The state-owned manufacturer PT Pindad already succeeded in reverse engineering the ubiquitous 122mm Grad that originated in the former Soviet Union. But these are unguided munitions.

If LAPAN does pursue its rocket program the effort requires decades of work and, as they are well aware, multiple partners who can collaborate and guide their Indonesian counterparts. As a government aerospace research agency LAPAN is networked with Indonesia’s vast state-owned manufacturing sector. This makes any joint ventures for sensitive technology achievable especially when it comes to rocket boosters and launch systems. The hypothetical military dimension of LAPAN’s efforts in the medium-term are broad if rather vague.

The countries with space agencies that may become involved in LAPAN’s rocket program are diverse. In Asia and the Asia-Pacific alone there’s Australia, China, India, Japan, Russian, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.


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