The Denel Dynamics Mokopa missile, developed as part of the South African Air Force’s Rooivalk attack helicopter programme, Project Impose, is a step closer to service, having now completed its capability qualification.
Denel Dynamics CE Jan Wessels says the missile’s qualification, not previously announced, was completed late last year.
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 Adv 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 “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.” It is understood from Wessels that all funding has indeed flowed as initially committed in support of development of Mokopa, other than the funding envisaged for acquisition of operational Mokopa missiles.
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 ads. 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.
The next step is now to qualify the weapon on helicopters other than the Rooivalk, of which 11 are in service with 16 Squadron. “We are looking for opportunities to integrate and fire it from a helicopters to relevant targets to finally qualify the missile as integrated weapon system.” Candidate helicopters include ATE’s developmental Mil Mi-24 Hind, various Eurocopter platforms, the AgustaWestland Lynx or other Russian platforms. “We want to see it successfully destroying a target from a helicopter with a strong future market application. It is one step closer to an export customer, Wessels adds.
He continues 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 is 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 says the SAAF has “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 says 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 says. “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 sees only limited short-term opportunity for Mokopa with the land services. “Most armies won’t use it optimally, he says. 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 says.