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Indonesia has been developing its own unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) in an attempt 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.

According to Jakarta Post, the indigenous submarine platform, known as the Kaledupa, boasts modern underwater sensors and has an operating depth of 150m. In addition to its sensing technology, it has an underwater recorder with HD resolution and LED lighting tools that help the submarine see hundreds of meters under the ocean. “During the test, Kaledupa managed to prove all of its advantages. We hope this new technological development will reduce our dependency on foreign weaponry systems,” said Brigadier-General Jan Pieter Ate, director of the defense industry and technology at the Indonesia Defence Ministry.

However, todayonline.com evaluates that to develop and operate UUVs effectively requires a technological base more commonly found in highly advanced countries. Given Indonesia’s low defense industrial base, it remains to be seen if the Kaledupa project would be viable.

Naval expert Collin Koh told todayonline.com that the initiative is feasible in theory at least, given that it could utilize a wide variety of commercially available dual-use technologies.

Richard Bitzinger, Defense analyst and coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at RSIS, noted that developing indigenous defense 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 Bitzinger. In view of the challenges faced in developing an indigenous UUV, he envisaged a “steep learning curve” for the Indonesians.

From what is known about the platform – it certainly does not amount to a breakthrough, as its quoted operating depth of 150m is just half of what some Western UUVs are capable of, Dr. Koh observed. Although he 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 itself is a major technical and operational challenge that the Indonesian navy would have to overcome.

Based on current technology, the use of UUVs for naval missions such as mine-hunting and undersea surveillance is generally quite limited, cautioned Bitzinger.