With the South African-Brazilian A-Darter air-to-air missile heading for production next year, prime contractor Denel Dynamics is looking to further cooperate with Brazil in missile development, notably on the 100 km range Marlin radar-guided air-to-air weapon.
The A-Darter is in its final stage of development, with production expected to begin next year and the first missiles should be in service by 2016. Testing and integration has already been done on South African Air Force (SAAF) Gripen C/Ds, which should accelerate the integration of the weapon onto Brazilian Gripen NGs when these are delivered from 2018. Brazil had originally planned to integrate the A-Darter onto its fleet of F-5s but with the purchase of the Gripen NG this has been cancelled as the Gripen will replace the F-5 fleet.
In addition to the Gripen, Denel Dynamics is also integrating the A-Darter onto the SAAF’s Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT), a process which will take around two years. There is also talk of integrating the infrared guided weapon onto Brazil’s AMX aircraft.
Components for the 20 km range missile are manufactured in South Africa and Brazil, with extensive technology transfer and integration between the industries of the two countries. As South Africa is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), it has done most of the development but ultimately production will take place in both countries on separate production lines.
Deon Olivier, Business Development Executive at Denel Dynamics, said that Brazil will initially buy a hundred missiles for its Gripens as part of an initial production run of around 250 missiles. He said that beyond South Africa and Brazil, other countries have expressed interest in the weapon.
Brazilian defence minister Celso Amorim visited South Africa in March and stopped by Denel Dynamics’ facilities in Centurion to see A-Darter progress first-hand. Whilst in the country he discussed further cooperation in the field of air-to-air missiles. Amorim and defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula agreed to strengthen the relationship between the defence industries of both countries. One project that is moving forward is the joint development of a new air-to-air missile with a range of up to 100 km. Called Marlin by Denel Dynamics, the new weapon will feature a radar seeker head and will be developed into an all-weather surface-to-air missile (SAM) that can be used by South African and Brazilian Navies.
The Marlin technology demonstrator programme was contracted by the Department of Defence through Armscor and will result in a missile that is launched at a target in three to four years’ time. Marlin technology will subsequently be used for Navy, Army and Air Force applications, with synergy achieved due to common subsystems. The missile will use some subsystems and system architecture from Denel’s proven Umkhonto surface-to-air missile and the A-Darter.
Olivier told defenceWeb that South Africa and Brazil will develop missiles long after the A-Darter project. Tsepo Monaheng, CEO of Denel Dynamics, said that Denel is committed to its relationship with the Brazilian Air Force and Brazilian industry and noted that the success of the A-Darter collaboration will ensure that skills levels in both countries are sustained and improved. Monaheng said he was looking forward to the conclusion of a supplementary agreement that allows collaboration beyond A-Darter.
In addition to post-A-Darter work, Denel Dynamics is looking at collaborating with Brazil on a high speed target drone and a vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV).
Although the A-Darter is arguably Denel Dynamics’ most prestigious product, the company is also working on improving the other missiles in its stable. Last year it conducted firings of the Umkhonto SAM that engaged targets at 20 km, an improvement in range of 5 km. Ultimately the company wants to put a radar seeker head onto the Umkhonto and give it a range of up to 60 km.
Denel Dynamics is adapting its Ingwe anti-tank missile to be fired from different launchers. It was originally designed to be launched from armoured vehicles but the company is working on a lighter launcher for integration on light helicopters and light vehicles. The aim is to have a missile that can be dismounted from a vehicle and fired from a tripod. This would make it more versatile – for instance it could be fired from ships or used to protect bases. According to Christo de Kock, Chief Operations Executive, Denel Dynamics is busy with an internally funded prototype. A working prototype is expected in the next six months.
De Kock said Mokopa and Ingwe are mature missiles in production, with the Ingwe selling internationally. Meanwhile, the Al Tariq guided bomb unit is in production for the United Arab Emirates Air Force through the Tawazun Dynamics company and has been integrated onto the Hawk and Mirage 2000. On the surface-to-air side, the Umkhonto was delivered to the Finnish and South African navies and is in production for an export customer.
De Kock said Denel Dynamics was looking at using common building blocks in adapting its missiles to suit various needs. It is running a programme to replace the infrared seeker in the Umkhonto with a radar seeker for all-weather operation, for example.
Some years ago Denel exhibited the Impi missile at Africa Aerospace and Defence as a lighter, smaller Mokopa that could be fired from UAVs. However, the company has suspended development of this weapon as it is focusing on using UAVs like the Seeker 400 for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance given the sensitivity about armed UAVs.
Looking forward, de Kock said it was important to stay on top of developments and keep an eye on areas of interest, such as improved sensors, modular subsystems, parts commonality, scalability of warheads and cost reduction and Denel Dynamics is exploring all these avenues.