Denel improves AWSAM missile


The state arms company upgrades its Umkhonto air defence missile.Denel, the state-owned arms company, has conceptualised a family of missiles based on its Umkhonto short-range air defence (SHORAD) system.

This development will likely earn SA billions more in foreign exchange in the applied IT field.

The Umkhonto is in service with the South African and Finnish navies and is on order for the Swedish Navy and the SA Army.

The SA Army is to acquire the system as part of Project Protector, an as yet uncosted programme to give the Air Defence Artillery (ADA) a capability it has never previously enjoyed.

The ADA is taking a very SHORAD (VSHORAD) system into service as part of the R801 million Project Guardian, also known as phase one of the Ground-based Air Defence System (GBADS).

Protector, or GBADS 2, will see the Army get an extra punch. “It is the same missile that is used by the SA Navy, it will just be land-based,” says Denel Dynamics air defence missiles executive manager Machiel Oberholzer.

“We have signed an order for the study phase on the launcher. We have already quoted similar systems to other areas in the world,” Oberholzer adds.

“It is a good concept, six missiles in an ISO-container that can be mounted on any type of vehicle, that has a 360-degree engagement capability and a high kill probability due to is large [23kg] warhead.”

Umkhonto`s IT systems are countermeasure-resistant and do not need line-of-sight to the target to fire, but use lock-on-after-launch. It is modular and, therefore, easy to integrate into the military`s command and communications architecture or C4IRS (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, reconnaissance and sensors).

Infrared boost

The current infrared-guided Umkhonto has a range of 12km. Oberholzer says this is being expanded as part of a pre-planned product improvement initiative. An extended-range infrared version is planned and will range up to 22km.

The company also plans to fit a radar seeker to Umkhonto to give the system the ability to shoot down aircraft and missiles in all weather conditions under the name AWSAM or all weather surface to air missile.

Oberholzer says the standard AWSAM will have a 20m range, while an extended range version fitted with a booster rocket (AWSAM-E) – will hit out up to 30km – which places it in the medium-range capability.

“This is the first time AWSAM is talked about,” Oberholzer says.

He adds that the advantage of such a family of missiles is that “you can have a cocktail of missiles in your launchers so you can engage with the most appropriate one to the threat. Infrared missiles are cheaper than radar and you don`t want to use an expensive missile to shoot down an easy target.”

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A million rand a shot