How UAVs can assist in resolving the Indo-Pacific challenges
David Willems


The South China Sea is an area of great importance – economically, politically and militarily.

Not only does one-third of the world’s shipping pass through it, worth around US$5 trillion annually, but according to various reports, it also promises to be rich in oil and gas reserves [1]. For decades, it’s been home to multiple territorial disputes involving China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Ranging from impounding fishing vessels through to occupation of islands, these largely unresolved issues have contributed to growing tensions between China and US relations in Asia.


The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest ocean on Earth. It spans more than 60 million square miles from China to California. These numbers alone make it extremely difficult to cover through maritime activities, such as anti-piracy, human trafficking and pollution monitoring. The Indo-Pacific region is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia provide a number of challenges for military and civilian maritime agencies alike.

Add to the regional touchpoints the ongoing issue surrounding US-China trade tensions, including US tariffs on Chinese imports worth at least US$50 billion, the Indo-Pacific has become a prime focus for world powers and ASEAN nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) [2]. This cocktail of economic challenges has provided the backdrop where US and China have been joined by navies from Australia and India to mark out their political and geographical powerplays.


In turn, the macro-economic turbulence has impacted the region with increased supply chain costs and reduced exports across Indo-Pacific trade routes fuelling a resurgence in illegal activities ranging from piracy and people smuggling to arms-running and unlicensed oil and gas drilling.

Business aside, there is also a dynamic and challenging theatre in the Indo-Pacific waters, where seaborne assets need more capabilities through intelligence than ever before. It’s no longer good enough to just project military power through large capital ships such as aircraft carriers.

The new strategy currently being played out is to mix and integrate various seaborne and air platforms, whether it’s long range or tactical, to ultimately provide that important ‘eye in the sky’. This is not only to support ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capabilities on land and sea, but also to include mission and tactical cover for individual naval commanders including littoral assets, envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats. 


The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) solution in particular provides a versatile and agile solution for individual islands and the archipelagos surrounding hard to access territories such as the coastline of Indonesia, at 54,720 km, which ranks as the third longest coastline in the world.

It is precisely this topography of coastlines, inlets and remote islands where platforms such as the SKELDAR V-200 rotary UAV can provide a multi-role capability. Powered by a purpose built heavy fuel propulsion system from Hirth Engines, this highly effective Vertical Take-Off & Landing (VTOL) aircraft offers multiple payload options. In tandem with seaborn assets, rotary UAVs provide agile support for C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) missions.

As the world spotlight continues to focus on the challenges thrown up by political and economic posturing from various actors, intelligence remains a key requirement for informed decisions to meet multiple threats taking advantage of this wide expanse of ocean.


[1] https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/maritime-antisub/4240-the-indo-pacific-s-maritime-choke-points-sunda-and-lombok?utm_source=DefenceConnect&utm_campaign=17_06_19&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2

[2] https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-relations-china