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A-Darter successfully launched off SAAF Gripen

The South African Air Force (SAAF) has successfully test-fired a Denel Dynamics A-Darter fifth-generation short-range imaging infra-red air-to-air missile at the company's Overberg test range east of Cape Town.

It is the latest step in the development of the R1 billion joint venture between South Africa and Brazil.

Gripen-builder SAAB says the test firing, the first, verified the integration between the missile and the aircraft. Gripen was chosen as the platform for these integration tests and has completed the them with outstanding results, said Ulf Nilsson, responsible for the Gripen program within the Aeronautics division at SAAB. "The test firing is an important milestone in the Gripen programme,” he adds. “The A-Darter missile is a collaboration and development project within the missile area between the local industry, Denel Dynamics, South Africa, and Brazil, where SAAB has a leading role for the integration of complex future missile systems".

Magnus Reineholm, SAAB project manager for the A-Darter integration added in a statement issued by the aircraft maker that the missile “and the Gripen aircraft have worked beyond our expectations and we are extremely pleased with the test firing results".

Denel Dynamics CE Jan Wessels says for his company, “as a supplier of advanced guided missile turn-key solutions, it is as important to develop technically advanced missiles as it is to ensure simplicity and ease of integration on multiple aircraft types, since our market focus is on a broad spectrum of potential customer aircraft choices. This attribute of the A-Darter missile is well demonstrated by the successful integration & clearance program on the highly advanced Gripen fighter, and bodes well for the A-Darter missile integration on a variety of further aircraft platforms.”

The SAAF is to fit the missile to its fleet of 24 workhorse BAE Systems Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainers in addition to integrating it on to the 26 more sophisticated Saab Gripen C and D advanced lightweight fighter. Brazil wants the weapon for its FX-2 future fighter programme.

In April Wessels told defenceWeb the weapon, under development since March 2007 was on track and on target for delivery to the SAAF and the Brazilian Air Force from early 2013, now less than three years away. Wessels added training missiles will be delivered from 2012. In March the A-Darter completed its guided flight test. “That's where you first test it against a target,” Wessels explained in the April interview. “Now everything has to work as a system. What you now do is you have an actual infra-red target in the air, in this case a parachute flare... now you check if everything is working as a system,” he says.

The test followed a series of programme flight tests where the missile had to fly a series of pre-determined routes, or circuits, “and it is very extreme, left, right up down, all the difficult manoeuvres. But it doesn't engage a target. You are exercising its manoeuvrability. Can it pull the G's etcetera. That was done by February,” Wessels adds.

“In parallel the so-called integration missiles that went to Saab. So they have in Sweden already integrated the missile with the structure of the aircraft, the mechanical integration of the missile with the aircraft and with the avionics, which is very complex on the Gripen. They conducted a series of flight tests where they flew with this missile in extreme angles of attack up to 12G, (12 times standard earth gravity) and up to 13 700m in altitude to ensure the aircraft wasn't damaged.” The firing of the missile off the aircraft will be tested as a separate activity but it is these days fairly predictable.

“The rest of the programme is now qualification and industrialisation. So the real technology has all been solved. On a programme like this those were the risks. On a fifth generation missile like this there were many things we had never done. They have all now been ticked off. Now we can increase the reliability and maturity of the system.”


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