Toward a National Space Agency

Chappy Hakim Air Force Chief of Staff (2002-2005), author of Tanah Air Udaraku Indonesia (“My Aerial Homeland, Indonesia”)

IO – Air, not as a substance, but the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country over its territory, has long been seen as something vulnerable and even a weak point in the perspective of National Security or State Defense. However, for over a century, Air and Space has been recognized as the future of mankind.

Weak point

Aerial superiority has been proven as a means to win a war. Most of the wars waged throughout human history have been won through air supremacy. That is why many consider that in terms of national defense and security, airspace is seen as a weak point that can be exploited to conquer a country.

When Germany set out to conquer Britain after successfully occupying France, German war planners decided to conquer England through an air attack. This was because, among other things, Germany knew too well that Britain’s power lay in its naval force, globally known for its jargon: “Great Britain Rules the Waves”.

Apart from the fact that Britain was able to survive the assault and emerged victorious in the “Battle of Britain”, airspace was seen by Germany as a weak point in British defense. German strategists thought an easy way to occupy Britain would be through air. A Japanese air strike against the US largest military base in the Pacific, Pearl Harbor, and the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki further prove how vulnerable a country’s airspace is to an airborne invasion by foreign forces.

In the beginning of the 21st century, the 9/11 tragedy that brought down New York’s WTC Twin Towers, seen as the symbol of America’s financial might, is another clear example of how extremely vulnerable a country’s airspace is to enemy attacks. 9/11 opened the eyes of war strategists and national security experts on how weak airspace defense is, not only from external but also internal threats.

The Cold War era that lasted 44 years from 1947 to 1991 saw an arms race between the Western and Eastern blocs to dominate global airspace. NATO war strategists, and similarly the Eastern Bloc, were well aware of the vulnerability of each other’s airspace as a weak point that can be used as an entry point to subdue an opponent. It was during this era that sophisticated weapons capable of attacking a distant enemy, such as an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and other Satellite-controlled Weapons were invented.

The Cold War has ushered in the era of space combat known as “Star Wars”. The race for supremacy not just in airspace but also outer space reached its pinnacle.

Future of mankind

Apart from being a weak point, airspace and outer space are also “the future of mankind”. This can be seen in the fact that countries that were hostile decades ago are now working hand in hand to explore outer space. Recently we know of ISS (the International Space Station) which orbited at an altitude of 400 km above sea level. A collaboration between NASA, America’s Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos, Japan’s JAXA, Europe’s ESA and Canada’s CSA is a laudable endeavor by mankind to jointly explore the possibility of new settlements beyond Earth and the potential to sustain human life in outer space. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has its own “contemporary human space program” known as Project 921, in collaboration with several countries, including Germany and Russia, for the development of “human and robotic space projects”.

Furthermore, in 2019 in Leiden, the Netherlands, a meeting of space law experts was convened to discuss arrangements on space mining management of astral bodies. These all illustrate very clearly that airspace and outer space, while regarded as a point of vulnerability in the context of national defense and security, are also where the future of humanity lies.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia has long been regarded as a developing country with a globally reputed aerospace vision. As an archipelagic state, Indonesia, which in 1955 had yet to have a Maritime Council, already had set up an Aeronautics Council. This was before Sputnik, the world’s first satellite launched in October 1957 by the Soviet Union. In 1964, the Faculty of Law of Padjadjaran University (Unpad) had a department for “Air and Space Law” founded by Prof. Dr. Priyatna Abdurrasyid. Unpad is indeed the first university in Asia whose Law Faculty offers a major in Air and Space Law.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Indonesia conducted several rocket experiments, including Kartika I launched from the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) rocket launching station in Pameungpeuk, West Java. This was the second rocket launched in Asia after Japan’s Kappa rocket. In the same period Indonesia began to build up its Air Force as the strongest Air Force in the southern hemisphere. In addition to having the National Atomic Energy Agency in 1976, Indonesia also succeeded in launching the Palapa 1 communication satellite.

All of this illustrates how Indonesia has in the past viewed air and space not just as a weak point but also at the same time the future of the mankind, putting it in the same league with other developed countries. Indonesia has several advantages from an aerospace perspective. Indonesia is a country with a vast territory, an island nation with a large population, and is located in a very strategic position along the equator.

Unfortunately, Indonesia has not been optimal in cultivating these advantages. Indonesia has not paid enough attention to research and development as well as education and training for human capital in the Air and Space sector. Aeronautics, it has to be admitted, has yet to receive serious attention from the wider community and especially the government. Amid the fading of the nation’s aerospace vision, especially in the last two decades, as marked by the dissolution of the Indonesian National Aviation and Outer Space Council (Depanri) and LAPAN, perhaps the Indonesian aerospace community needs to take the initiative in calling on the establishment for a new Indonesia National Space Agency.

Because aerospace is the future of mankind, it is feared that a country that has neglected its development will be left far behind and become a “coolie” nation. It is very naive to explore a promising Indonesian aerospace venture if we only limit ourselves to managing airlines and building airports. It must be remembered that aerospace is not just about the future of mankind but that higher standard of living, rich culture, spiritual, economic and political independence = all impossible without full air and space control.

Will we see the dawn of the Indonesia National Space Agency as part of the Indonesia Onward program? We can only hope…