Denel Dynamics recently completed its V3E Agile Darter (A-Darter) air-to-air missile qualification tests, making deliveries to the South African Air Force (SAAF) a step closer.
According to Denel Dynamics A-Darter Progamme Manager, Japie Maré, all that is left is the paperwork, which he expects to be completed by April next year.
Maré said of his organisation that there were “not many companies in the world that could do that”, referring to the design of the A-Darter, which he characterised as a “fifth generation dogfighting missile”.
Using a homing Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) seeker head, the A-Darter is able to lock on to a target even after launch, which means it is harder for the target aircraft’s sensors to pick it up. There is also minimal aluminium in the propellant, which helps reduce the smoke trail, again, to make it harder to identify the source of the missile.
The IIR seeker head is able to overcome standard counter-measures such as flares.
Mare said A-Darter could be launched at a target at right angles to it and more (180 degrees) to the fighter aircraft. “If you can still see the target you can launch it. We’ve done some of those launches; it’s almost like an over-the-shoulder shot.” Although A-Darter is a short-range missile, it has a range of 20 kilometres.
A-Darter is a Fifth-Generation missile, which is described as: “In terms of the seeker look angles, that’s wider; the tracking rates are wider as well as the Gs the missile can pull. The A Darter is designed for 85Gs and also has also thrust vector control to turn faster.”
In an e-mail to defenceWeb, Maré pointed out the missile was designed for 85Gs but flight test measurements greater than that were registered. This is an extremely high number.
Maré explained that the A Darter had been “integrated on the Gripen” in 2011, and they had fired the missile 22 times from Gripen, excluding six “fire clearance” missile launches. He said: “We’ve now finished with the qualification launches.”
He said Denel has built three types of A-Darter. The first is a dummy missile. “The Air Force uses that for training purposes for their ground crew: how to handle the weapon, how to take it out of the box, how to put it back. Then you’ve got the trainer missile that looks similar to the operational missile, except it doesn’t have a warhead. The rocket motor is also a dummy. It has a real live seeker – that’s for training purposes.” He explained that as the missiles are on the Gripen wingtip, two missiles can be launched, and for training the pilot can practice with the active seeker head against potential targets. The third version is the operational missile itself.
He added Denel was running an obsolescence programme for the missile, which meant as components become obsolete, they would either seek to build new components or source them elsewhere.
According to a Brazilian website, the A-Darter will form part of the Gripen E-series armoury. Brazil has ordered 28 Gripen single-seat and eight two-seat Gripen E/F series fighters, with delivery expected from 2019. The A-Darter will likely be delivered next year as well.
There were plans to integrate the A-Darter onto the SAAF’s Hawk Mk 120s (and Brazil’s F-5EMs) but the F-5 integration was cancelled and Hawk integration postponed due to funding constraints.
Another possible customer for A-Darter is Pakistan, which is considering it for its joint venture fighter with China, the JF-17 Thunder.
The A-Darter was developed in conjunction with Brazil, but changes in the Brazilian environment, notably Mectron divesting from the defence sector, delayed production.
South Africa is one of a few countries to have developed a fifth generation air-to-air missiles, along with nations like the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and the United Kingdom.