Denel’s A-Darter air-to-air missile passed critical in-flight guided tests in recent weeks and production of this fifth-generation missile system is expected to start before the end of 2015.
A-Darter – a collaborative product between the South African and Brazilian defence industries – will be on display at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX 2015) in Abu Dhabi later this month.
Riaz Saloojee, Denel Group chief executive, is confident the A-Darter will be a global leader in its class when it comes into service within the next 18 months.
The A-Darter is designed to meet the challenges of future air combat against next-generation fighters in a hostile electronic counter-measure (ECM) environment.
The A-Darter is the flagship project of Denel Dynamics, the division in the group responsible for advanced systems technology in the missile and UAV environments.
Denel’s participation at IDEX from February 22 to 26 will again demonstrate the quality and range of its precision-guided weapon systems to a global audience, especially in the important Middle East and North Africa regions, the company said.
Components for the missile are manufactured in both South Africa and Brazil and Denel Dynamics is the Original Equipment Manufacturer. Brazil has invested 300 million Reals (R1.3 billion) in the project, half of which has gone to Brazilian companies such as Mectron, Avibras and Optoelectronics, which have been working with Denel Dynamics on the project since 2006. One of Brazil’s main reasons for becoming involved in the project is technology transfer and Brazilian engineers have been working closely with those in South Africa.
Testing and integration of the A-Darter on the JAS 39 Gripen used by the SA Air Force have already been done and it will, in future, also be integrated onto the Gripen NG, which will be delivered to the Brazilian Air Force in 2018.
The A-Darter is aimed to be fitted to both Gripen and Hawk aircraft of the South African Air Force. There is also talk of integrating the infrared guided weapon onto Brazil’s AMX aircraft. Brazil will initially buy a hundred missiles for its Gripens, as part of an initial production run of around 250 missiles.
Apart from domestic use by the Brazilian and South African air forces, the A-Darter will also be offered for export, with these sales being shared, according to Brazilian Air Force Colonel Julius Caesar Cardoso Tavares, the A-Darter project manager in Brazil.
The wingless missile design promotes a low-risk integration process on both the latest and older generation aircraft platforms. Denel Dynamics can be contracted for prime missile integration on the client’s platform of choice, making the A-Darter a cost-effective solution.
The missile’s agility will enable it to handle close combat situations with ease and it also features lock-on after launch and memory tracking capabilities. Among its features are advanced digital processing capabilities to ensure improved performance in terms of image detection, false target rejection, electronic counter-counter-measures, guidance and control.
The Brazilian Air Force said the A-Darter is ten times more manoeuvrable than a fighter aircraft, able to perform manoeuvres that generate up to 100 g, whereas most modern fighter jets can only withstand around 9 g. Measuring 2.98 meters in length and weighing 90 kg, the new missile is notable because of the absence of the small forward wings used for control – instead the A-Darter is able to direct the thrust of its rocket engine. Maximum range is 12 miles, according to the Brazilian Air Force.
“Heat-seeking, the A-Darter has a guidance system so sensitive that just after firing it can make a sharp turn and hit targets that are chasing the launcher plane. Today, fourth generation missiles can hit targets that are, at best, next to the launcher plane. The guidance sensor can also ‘see’ more of the infrared frequency band, and thereby avoid being fooled by flares – incandescent bait thrown to confuse missiles,” Tavares said.
After the successful A-Darter project, Brazil and South Africa plan to further cooperate in missile development, notably on the 100 km range Marlin radar-guided air-to-air weapon, which will be developed into an all-weather surface-to-air missile (SAM) that can be used by the South African and Brazilian Navies.