SAAF funds Umbani


The South African Air Force has awarded Denel Dynamics a R282 784.20 contract for the development of a low-cost stand-off weapon system. The work likely relate to the recent testing of the Umbani (meaning “lightning”) precision guided munition (PGM) bomb kit from a BAE Systems Hawk Mk120, making it the first indigenous guided weapon trialled from the lead-in fighter aircraft.

Denel Dynamics CE Jan Wessels last year May said the development of the bomb kit was being funded by the SAAF as a technology project. According to the Armscor Bulletin System some R34 820 015.31 was spent on the kit between 2008 and this month. The Engineering News last month reported development had started in 2002 with some R100 million in military funding and R20 million of the company’s own funds.

Initial flight tests were successfully conducted on the Denel Cheetah some years ago. “In the last year we’ve moved to a Aerosud-owned (Dassault) Mirage F1 test platform because of the non-availability of the Cheetah and the high cost of integration on the new Saab Gripen as test platform,” Wessels told defenceWeb last year May. “The next series of tests will probably be on the Hawk, for us it is significant as it is another step towards the Hawk becoming a workhorse of the SAAF. We see a lot of opportunity to take our Umbani onto that product. … There are many potential export customers but all are looking to the SAAF to adopt it first.”

Wessels says their customer’s major requirement is in the PGM arena for bomb kits for the Mk 82 227kg (500lb) bombs. But Umbani can also be made to fit the 113kg (250lb) Mk 81 and 454kg (1000lb) Mk 83 bombs. “In two years’ time this could be a bread and butter product,” said Wessels. “Our bomb-kit design is an optimal trade-off between performance and affordability plus ease of use. We have matured the technology sufficiently to offer Umbani in its basic configuration to the market at stand-off range up to 40km and with great accuracy.”

Umbani has been advertised as an all-weather, day and night system and is fitted with a GPS/INS (Global Positioning System – Inertial Navigation System) capability. According to Denel, the system was designed with ease of use in mind and has low maintenance and life-cycle costs.

A marketing brochure some years ago advertised increased accuracy could be obtained using an imaging infra-red (IIR) sensor with an automatic target recognition capability or a semi-active laser seeker. The system could reportedly also be fitted with a radio frequency proximity fuse for area targeting, using a pre-fragmented warhead. Typical imagined mission sets include offensive counter-air such as demolishing hardened aircraft shelters – and parked aircraft or cratering runways. With the appropriate fuse the bomb can also be turned into a large anti-personnel or anti-material mine. On the battlefield, the weapon could be employed against air defence units or supply columns. Buildings, bridges, refineries, industrial areas and dams would also make useful targets. Accuracy is said to be within 3m circular error probable (CEP) when using laser or IIR. The addition of a rocket motor extends the stand-off range for the mother aircraft or allows low-level launch. Denel says various seekers, fuze and warheads may be fitted. The bomb can manoeuvre during the glide phase. A booster rocket module can also be fitted at the rear of the weapon.”

The Umbani reportedly has an operational range of up to 100 km if launched at 11 000m.

Umbani production manager Coenie Loock told the Engineering News an “undisclosed foreign country” has ordered the weapon in three variants in a R1.2 billion deal. “The customer has already indicated a follow-up requirement worth more than R1 billion,” the publication added. “We have a project to extend the range to 200km,” he added. “We have a client who wants to put in a datalink to update target information. We can also add a wing kit to extend the range.”

The Umbani augments the Raptor 2 in the state arsenal’s inventory. The Raptor was developed in the early 1980s under Project Hanto and integrated on the Dassault Mirage F1AZ and the Blackburn Buccaneer S.50. The weapon, called the H-2 by the SAAF, was first used operationally against a bridge at Cuito Cuanavale during Operations Hooper on December 12, 1987. The H-2, dropped from a 24 Squadron Buccaneer, failed to destroy its target but a second attack on January 3, 1988 proved more successful. Raptor 2 has been successfully exported but is not in SAAF service. THe H-2 is long retired.

The Raptor programme, by the then-Kentron company, was followed by the MUPSOW (MUlti-Purpose, Stand-Off Weapon) that was advertised as a multi-purpose, surgical-strike cruise missile, designed to neutralise enemy targets such as airfields, bunkers and command-and-control centres at “stand-off ranges”. Pinpoint accuracy was to be achieved by using an advanced navigation and terminal guidance technology (data link, choice of TV, IIR or MMW seekers). The airframe would be made out of composites, powered by a turbojet. Work reportedly commenced in 1991 with unpowered flight tests commencing in 1997. MUPSOW led to Torgos, another concept long-range, precision-guided strike missile. Neither seemingly made it beyond mock-up.

Pic: A take from a Denel Dynamics marketing brochure showing an Umbani with a Saab Gripen. Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano has previously said the air service did not have the funds to integrate weapons, implicitly also the Umbani, onto the Gripen (the Denel A-Darter being an exception). It is understood the SAAF is acquiring a number of US Raytheon Paveway IV laser-guided bomb kits that are similar to the Denel weapon. Paveway is already integrated onto the Swedish platform.

Low-cost stand-off weapon systems technology – extension of EDWU/2007/585

DWU/S2011/0640 1 Sep 2011 R282 784,20 Denel (Pty) Ltd t/a Denel Dynamics

DWU/S2010/0574 23 Jun 2010 R4 659 160,94 Denel (Pty) Ltd t/a Denel Dynamics

Low-cost stand-off weapon systems technology

EDWU/2007/585 29 May 2008 R29 878 070,17 Denel (Pty) Ltd t/a Denel Aerospace