Brazilian defence minister brought up to speed on A-Darter project


Brazil’s defence minister has visited Denel Dynamics to get an update on the A-Darter fifth-generation air-to-air missile that will be integrated onto the Brazilian Air Force’s Gripen fighters.

Brazilian Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo visited Denel Dynamics on 27 May, accompanied by the Brazilian Ambassador to the country, Nedilson Ricardo Jorge, and by the Defence and Naval attachés, Captain Pedro Silva Filho; Army Colonel Isais Martins Junior; and Air Force Colonel Pilot Gustavo Luis da Silveira e Eliseu.

The Brazilian Defence Ministry said the visit was an opportunity to check on the status of the A-Darter, “which is in the final phase of development by the South African company. The next step will be integrating the project with Gripen, the new fighter aircraft of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB).”

After a presentation of partner companies involved in the project, the minister and his delegation were briefed about Denel’s facilities, the missile’s operating system and the potential of participating companies. The A-Darter missile project allows for the transfer of technology and knowledge between Brazil and South Africa.

Brazil’s Avibras helped develop the rocket motor, OptoEletronica assisted with the seeker head and Mectron (now part of Odebrecht Defence and Technology) brings experience as the manufacturer of all Brazil’s missiles.

Development of the A-Darter began under Project Assegai in 1995 but funding cuts put development on hold until Brazil joined the programme in 2006. Test firings began in 2010 and product baseline was established in 2018, paving the way for industrialisation and manufacturing (several years late). The SAAF placed a R939 million production contract with Denel for the missile in March 2015, with the first four trainer missiles scheduled for delivery in the 2018/19 financial year and the final batch of operational missiles scheduled for delivery in the 2021 calendar year.

Due to funding constraints the weapon will only be carried by the South African Air Force’s Gripen C/D jets. In Brazil, the A-Darter will equip the Air Force’s 36 new Gripen E/F fighters, with production of Brazilian missiles due to take place at a new facility in Sao Jose dos Campos. Three years ago Denel was awarded a R358 million contract to integrate the missile onto Brazil’s Gripens.

The 20 km range A-Darter can be designated onto a target through the launch aircraft’s radar, the missile’s infrared seeker head or by helmet-mounted sight. A high look angle means it can engage targets next to or even behind the launch aircraft. Lock-on after launch (with an inertial measurement unit providing mid-course guidance) allows the missile to engage targets beyond infrared detection range. A two-colour seeker and decoy rejection software means the missile is highly resistant to jamming.

In addition to the A-Darter, there has been talk of developing Denel Dynamics’ Umkhonto surface-to-air missile into an air-to-air missile, with interest from the Brazilian Air Force for its Gripens. Denel is developing the Marlin radar-guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile that may one day be used by the South African Air Force.