Indonesian Army Aviation Reaps Benefit of Deployment
The Indonesian Army is learning valuable lessons from its helicopter detachment’s current deployment to Mali.Helikopter Mi17V5 Kontingen Garuda
The Indonesian Medium Utility Helicopter Unit (INDO MUHU) landed in Timbuktu in September 2015. Three Mi-17V5s were subsequently assembled in Bamako by a joint team of INDO MUHU mechanics and Vietnamese contractors and following testing were flown to Timbuktu on 12 October 2015.
A week later, INDO MUHU conducted its first operational flight in Mali, carrying out a medevac from Kidal to Gao.
‘The mission of INDO MUHU is to provide MINUSMA [the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] with an air support capability for logistics and operational taskings,’ explained its commanding officer, Lt Col Zulfirman Caniago.
Under his orders are the 140 men and women of INDO MUHU, who hail from a variety of Army Aviation units, including 11, 12 and 31 Squadron and are on a 12 month tours of duty in Mali.
The unit comprises 12 full time pilots, six flight engineers, 18 mechanics, four avionics specialists and three loadmasters.
The unit’s logistics duties include troop transport, insertion and extraction of land forces, air patrol, CSAR in coordination with other MINUSMA units, SAR, casevac/medevac, area surveillance and reconnaissance as well as observation.
The unit is required by MINUSMA to have two serviceable aircraft at any given time and to be able to provide a maximum of 135 flight hours per month.
INDO MUHU’s fleet currently comprises three Mi-17V5s hailing from the Indonesian Army Aviation’s 31 Squadron, based in Semarang, Central Java, which flies a total of 11 such aircraft as well as five Mi-35P Hind attack helicopters.
The Mi-17V5s deployed to Mali have received a number of mission specific modifications and equipment, including armor plating, a Spectrolab Nightsun searchlight, a single hydraulic winch and a FLIR turret.
Due to the persisting terrorist threat in Mali, all INDO MUHU helicopters operate with a pair of FN MAG 58 7,62 mm light machine guns mounted in the cargo hold and firing through the aircraft’ side windows.
Since the start of the deployment the unit has faced a number of flying and maintenance challenges.
The harsh Malian environment, with its abundant dust and high temperatures, causes aircraft components to wear out faster than in Indonesia, while there is only one hangar available, which can only accommodate a single Mi-17 and is usually reserved for servicing duties.
The ever-present dust is the most significant danger to the aircraft’s components and in order to mitigate its impact, the turbines of the Mi-17s are cleaned with compressed air after each sortie, something which is usually done on a weekly basis only in Indonesia.
Flying conditions in Mali are often harsh and unforgiving. As Indonesian pilots explain, the main challenges are the temperature, which decreases the Mi-17’s useful load, the weather – especially in the rainy season – which can change very rapidly and the dust which not only gets everywhere but also hampers visibility.
Bird collisions are another major hazard and indeed, on August 17, an Indonesian Mi-17 returned to Timbuktu after an aerial collision although, fortunately, both birds impacted the nose without causing any damage to the aircraft.
The need to remain outside the firing envelope of small arms means most flights are conducted at altitudes of 2500 to 3500 feet. Such altitudes are also better suited for recce duties as it allows a better overview of the monitored area.
As per the terms of the LOA signed between the UN and Indonesia, INDO MUHU’s deployment is slated to conclude on 14 October 2016. However, as Caniago explained to Shephard in mid-September, this has yet to be confirmed and at present the unit has no certainty as to when its mission will finalise.