An Indonesian Navy patrol boat, painted with radar-absorbent material, completed a successful test in North Jakarta last week. (SP Photo/Ari Supriyanti Rikin)

Indonesia Advances in Military Stealth Technology


APRIL 01, 2019

Jakarta. Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto may like to lament the fact that Indonesia trails its peers in firepower, but the country's military has made sure that this is not for lack of trying. 

And now the country has made an encouraging breakthrough in the development of its own stealth technology, which may eventually place it among major powers, such as the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Israel. 

An Indonesian Navy vessel, painted with radar-absorbent material, completed a successful test in North Jakarta last week, capping four years of government-sponsored research into stealth technology to improve the country's primary defense systems.

Jumain Appe, director general of innovation strengthening at the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education, said the radar-absorbent paint is the result of research and experimentation with rare-earth materials by the National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan).

"The radar-absorbent paint is created through our collaboration with Sigma Utama Paint," he said during the test on Friday, referring to the country's only state-owned paint producer. 

The research involves the Navy and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Since 2015, it has received funding from the research, technology and higher education ministry's industrial innovation program.

Indonesia only spends 0.8 percent of its gross domestic product of more than $1 trillion on its military, which Prabowo described during last Sunday's presidential debate as "too little," in comparison with the country's neighbors.

Still, this figure may be misleading. Since the administration of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono passed the Defense Industry Law in 2012, state-owned enterprises and research institutions have been aligning their projects with Indonesia's defense needs. This accelerated the country's defense production, which ranges from assault rifles to medium tanks, helicopters and frigates.  

Stealth Paint

Jumain was impressed with the stealth technology used on the Navy patrol boat, but said it still needs improvement. For a vessel to have full stealth capabilities, it must be specially designed for that purpose from the ground up, so its stern can be painted with the radar-absorbent material. The ship's location will still be known if its radar reflector is switched on.

The stealth paint, on the other hand, has shown promising potential. 

"The trial went quite well; [the paint] can be mass-produced in the future. Regarding mass production, we will discuss it with Sigma Utama and the Indonesian Navy. The [radar-absorbent] paint cannot be made and sold by just anyone. It will be dangerous if smugglers start using it on their boats," Jumain said.

Wisnu Ari Adi, a researcher at Batan's Center for Science and Advanced Material Technology (PSTBM), said the paint is the result of processing monazite sand into rare-earth materials.

A prototype of the paint was first tested, to great effect, in 2017. It was undetectable to X-band radars, which operate at a frequency of between 8 and 2 gigahertz.

Wisnu said only a few developed countries have stealth technology in their arsenals.

"This is a technology that can absorb radar waves at certain frequencies. It is only in possession of developed countries and cannot be used commercially, because it is a highly strategic material and crucial for a country's defense," he said.

The researcher added that the radar-absorbent material is highly advanced, and that its properties can only be tested using nuclear technology.

"In Southeast Asia, only Batan is capable of testing materials using neutron-beam technology. The test is able to illustrate various magnetic and electrical interactions in the material," he said.