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Denel’s Mokopa PGM ready for market

Denel Dynamics, the missiles and UAV business in the state arsenal, says it has successfully qualified its Mokopa guided missile. Mokopa is a precision-strike, multi-purpose 10km-plus weapon that can be fired from ground, sea, helicopter and fast-jet launchers.

Though initially developed as the primary anti-tank weapon for the Rooivalk combat helicopter, it has since evolved to a multi-purpose missile applicable to both conventional and asymmetrical scenarios. During trials completed last week the missile’s performance was validated utilising precision semi-active laser guidance and a powerful tandem anti-tank warhead (HEAT) configuration capable of destroying targets equipped with Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA), Denel says in a statement of the firing trials held at the company's OTB test range on January 21.

Alternative Mokopa configurations on offer include imaging infrared guidance and multi-purpose warhead option.

The Ministry of Defence in June 2007 said the SA National Defence Force had up to then spent R120 million (in 2007 Rand) on the Mokopa development program, with a further R4.6 million due to be spent in financial year 2007/8. “Denel is expected to spend a further R98.25 million (in 2007 currency) to complete the development of the missile. All figures exclude VAT and other statutory costs,” the MoD said in answer to a question asked by then-Democratic Alliance deputy defence spokesman Advocate Hendrik Schmidt. The answer added that an amount of R70 million (2007 Rand) had “been reserved for the acquisition of operational Mokopa missiles once the development is complete.”

It is not clear if the funds are still available and the Rooivalk is currently being operationalised with just its 20mm chin cannon and unguided rockets as armament. The MoD in 2007 added that Project Impose, the Rooivalk programme, “was initially mandated to fund the production baseline and industrialisation of the missile, but due to funding problems at Denel a decision was made that Project Impose would fund the allocated baseline and Denel the production baseline. The allocated baseline is nearing completion with a few deliverables outstanding.” There has been no further word on the matter.

According to the wikipedia development of the Mokopa began in November 1996, apparently due to the then-United States arms embargo against South Africa that made the acquisition of the AGM-114 Hellfire impossible. The first air-launched tests from a Rooivalk helicopter took place in 1999, with the first guided tests following in 2000, the online encyclopedia adds. The missile is considered to be very accurate, with an accuracy believed to match that of the company's other anti-tank missile, the Ingwe, at around 300 mm CEP (circular error probable) at maximum range. Its range is also said to long for an anti-tank missile – at 10 km it is greater than that of most current competitors, including the Hellfire (max 9km, although the MBDA Brimstone, the fast jet version of the Hellfire, can range to 32km). The range is achieved through an advanced solid-fuel composite rocket motor that has a relatively slow burning rate compared to similar motors – as well as being largely smokeless.

Wessels last year told defenceWeb that although the weapon was developed as a tank killer, “the bulk of the interest in the Mokopa has shifted to non-tank targets. A Denel marketing brochure notes the Mokopa, named after SA's deadliest snake, known in English as the black Mamba, was designed as a modular long-range, precision-guided anti-armour missile. “It may, however, be used effectively against other high-value ground, air or naval targets from a variety of launch platforms such as land vehicles, shore battery installations, naval vessels and fixed wing aircraft.” the brochure reads. The modular design of the missile allows for different warheads such as penetration, fragmentation or anti-armour optimised for the type of target.

Wessels was at the time very excited as the prospects for the Mokopa aboard the Lynx, of which the SuperLynx 300 maritime helicopter version series with the SAAF for deployment aboard the Navy's Valour-class frigates. “Today we look a the Lynx. It seems to us most of Lynx customers has a requirement for an affordable precision weapon to take on non-traditional threats example the pirate threat.” Bigger systems, such as the Sea Skua are often considered to be too pricey for this role. Wessels adds the SAAF is interested in the system for Lynx “but want us to succeed somewhere else first”, as it does not have the cash on hand to pay for the integration costs. This is in line with comments made by SAAF chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano on that subject.

Wessels added the SAAF had “offered us flight tests and help, combined with some of their activities, which is already very helpful. My personal preference would be if we could fire the first qualification Mokopa off a Lynx. Not a SA Lynx, perhaps, but a Lynx. The Dynamics CE in the April 2010 interview said the Mokopa should be particularly effective with a multi-purpose warhead in support of offshore patrol vessels, such as those contemplated for the SA Navy’s Project Biro. The weapon is also suitable as a secondary PGM for larger vessels,such as frigates. “You cannot fire an Exocet at a small boat, it is overkill,” he said. “There are a number of tenders out for new frigates where the shipyard offer our Umkhonto air defence missile plus the Lynx with the Mokopa. That is very important.”

On the other hand, he saw only limited short-term opportunity for Mokopa with the land services. “Most armies won't use it optimally, he noted. Land-to-land targeting at 5.5km, as with Ingwe, is already a very long range for target acquisition. You cant's see much further in the dust and glare of the battlefield. With Mokopa you go over-the-horison and then your communications and command-and-control has to be very advanced. Many armies are not yet confident enough to use such a weapon. The Ingwe is still very much on the sweet spot for most applications,” he said.

Denel Dynamics surprised the market at Africa Aerospace & Defence at AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town last September when it exhibited a mock-up of the Impi, a 25kg hybrid of the business' existing Mokopa and Ingwe PGM. Impi was developed to arm the company's Seeker 400, itself a new development. Denel Dynamics' Garsen Naidu said at the show the new missile concept “brings all our experience together”. The missile combines the Mokopa's seeker and laser guidance units with the Ingwe's multipurpose warhead and Umkhonto surface-to-air missile's datalink. Like the Mokopa, the weapon has a 10km range. Impi is currently in its design phase and is a small, low-cost system designed specifically for operation on lightweight armed reconnaissance platforms.

Pic: A Mokopa about to impact a target during a short range but high-manoevre test

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