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Indonesia Is Almost Making Ballistic Missiles

April 7, 2023
Via PT Dahana.

Back in the 2010s two state-owned companies, the chemicals producer PT Dahana and space agency LAPAN, developed a solid fuel rocket that could deliver a small payload over short distances. From 2016 until 2018 the RX 450 that was renamed the R-HAN 450 became a tactical rocket with a maximum effective range of 100 kilometers. But its manufacturer PT Dahana hasn’t been very aggressive in enhancing its largest weapon system–there’s no doubt about its role since its very name R-HAN complements the smaller R-HAN 122mm “Grad” rockets. This might change soon but nobody knows when. Although manufacturing large caliber rockets isn’t controversial the applications of the same manufacturing processes can lead to so-called strategic weapons.

At least four Asian countries used the manufacturing of small unguided rockets to establish indigenous programs for surface-to-surface missiles. In some cases these had potential nuclear-capable roles; the missiles can be armed with nuclear warheads if these are available. The countries are Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, and Türkiye. There’s no evidence Indonesia and its armed forces wish to follow the same path but the trend is almost inevitable. In its present variant the R-HAN 450 is a large caliber unguided rocket with dimensions of 460mm x 7200mm. Its appearance conforms to a basic tactical rocket with a quartet of fins around its booster and an elongated airframe. The RX 450 tested by LAPAN in 2020 had a trailer-based erector-launcher that positioned the rocket at a steep angle rather than vertically. Far from sophisticated the R-HAN 450 manufactured by PT Dahana lacks a container and even a transporter vehicle although 6×6 or 8×8 trucks usually suffice for these types of weapons.

The RX 450-5 is a single stage demonstrator for Indonesia’s space agency, LAPAN. Via LAPAN.

If the R-HAN 450 will evolve in the coming years the outcome leads to a ballistic missile–a large diameter munition with distinct characteristics that separate it from a “dumb” unguided rocket. An important criteria used to be the ballistic missile’s size but recent trends have made this unimportant. Ballistic missiles, at least the single stage models, usually have four sections–the booster, the propellant, the warhead, the guidance system–and PT Dahana seems to have mastered 3/4ths of the manufacturing process. So assembling a single stage ballistic missile is easy enough but the challenge to develop its guidance and navigation tools is a formidable one. These are housed in the missile’s cone-shaped tip (the warhead and fuze are below in their own section) and features a network of portable computers. Sometimes it’s essential to equip the tip of the missile with actuators that steer canards for stabilizing the missile’s flight path as it travels at supersonic speed. To fulfill this requirement PT Dahana needs an external partner able to supply avionics along with systems integration and testing.

Indonesia is rumored to have established a multi-faceted defense cooperation framework with Türkiye that involves the production of different missiles. PT Dahana’s development of the R-HAN 450 appears separate from this alliance but Turkish efforts at enhancing its homegrown missile technology are worth examining. Roketsan’s Khan SRBM, for example, shares many external similarities with the R-HAN 450–even if the Khan is based on a Chinese model–but has larger dimensions and is capable of reaching targets 280 kilometers away. Roketsan’s largest accurized rocket, the 300mm TRG-300 pictured below, is a closer analogue to the R-HAN 450 and is capable of reaching targets 120 km away. The TRG-300 best illustrates how an unguided large diameter battlefield rocket evolves for improved accuracy and flight.

If an Indonesian SRBM is truly in the works the critical details are the dimensions of the airframe and the guidance system installed at the tip. Regardless of how much input foreign partners have the result in all likelihood should resemble the Chinese M20 that has been exported to several countries. There are some risks involved with this program. The greatest is unwanted controversy and external pressure if Jakarta is too ambitious with missile development and this triggers sanctions from the West–Asian countries don’t interfere in these matters. (Indonesia isn’t beholden nor a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime/MTCR.)

The Roketsan TRG-300 has a maximum range of 120 km. Via Roketsan/ADEX 2022.

The technological aspects of an Indonesian breakthrough in accurized rocket artillery and ballistic missiles will be dramatic. At present there are numerous examples of surface-to-surface munitions that are erasing the boundaries separating rocket artillery and various strategic missiles. Foremost is Lockheed Martin’s Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) that’s smaller than any SRBM yet can fly distances beyond 500 km while armed with a modular payload. A single PrSM is barely 400mm in width and 3,940mm in length, modest proportions compared to contemporary SRBMs, yet boasts extreme flight characteristics. China, Iran, and Israel have almost achieved the same while Indonesia’s military-industrial sector is closer than it thinks. If PT Dahana and the DEFEND ID holdings succeed in mass-producing the R-HAN 450 as an improved munition and then follows it up with an indigenous SRBM this helps along a regional trend in ASEAN: large caliber tactical missiles are now in vogue.


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