Fact file: Denel Dynamics Umkhonto short-range infra-red-guided point air defence missile system


South Africa joined the handful of nations to have fielded a functional operational naval anti-missile air defence systems with the successful firing of the Umkhonto from aboard the Valour-class frigate SAS Amatola in November 2005. The missile is also in service with Finland.

Pic: A high-speed still of the first at-sea launch of the Umkhonto from the SAS Amatola.





Short-range point air defence missile system.

Country of origin:

South Africa.

First flight:

Delivered to the SAN:



Denel Dynamics



Not known but each Meko A200SAN Valour-class frigate to be equipped with two eight-cell vertical launcher systems, with growth potential to four eight-cell vertical launch system (VLS) (32 tubes).


R30 480 223,921.

System components:

Missiles, vertical launcher system, support equipment.



The Umkhonto missile system provides point defence against high-speed aircraft and missiles at ranges up to 12km. The system provides all-round protection, including zenith, and has a “very high saturation level”2 through the use of vertical launching, automatic flight control together with multi-targeting capabilities.


The Umkhonto-IR missile uses a two-colour infra-red homing seeker – similar to that aboard the SA Air Force’s V3D (Denel U-Darter) air-to-air missile (AAM) – and operates in the lock-on after launch (LOAL) mode. This means it receives target vector updates from the mother ship during the midcourse guidance phase, enabling it to make course corrections as required as required to counter target manoeuvres.


The Umkhonto IR is reputedly the first VLS IR SAM and also the first to use LOAL3 and can engage “eight or more”4 different targets simultaneously, using the ships’ Thales MRR (multi-role radar). Upon launch the missile is said to fly to a lock-on point using inertial navigation. At the designated spot the missile activates its IR seeker and locks on.


The missile uses a high performance, low smoke, composite propellant grain, housed in a composite material casing. The large warhead, together with an active proximity fuze, provides for a high kill probability. Apart from the IR seeker, the guidance system uses a digital autopilot, an inertial pack containing the sensors needed for the midcourse guidance phase, and a set of electromechanical servos. The latter control the tail-mounted aerodynamic control fins as well as the thrust vectoring vanes in the motor nozzle during launch – a technology developed for the Denel A-Darter AAM.


The cylindrical launch canister is sealed and pressurised to provide the missile inside maximum protection. During launch, the exhaust gas is deflected in the canister and ejected vertically alongside the missile as it leaves the canister. The empty canister is removed for reloading and is replaced by a full round. As far as can be determined this cannot be done at sea, meaning reloading will have to be done alongside (in port) or require the use of a replenishment vessel, as a depot ship, in calm seas.


The missile group’s serviceability is maximised by a built-in test system controlled by the SAM system controller. This ensures that all parts of the group are tested with a minimum of operator intervention. The missile group includes the actual missiles in their sealed canisters, a missile control panel (operator interface), the SAM system controller (system computer and combat suite interface), two missile sequencer subsystems (each of the latter controlling four missile canisters), the telecommand transmitter unit and antenna (that transmits target information to the missile in flight) and a gas supply subsystem to cool the missile’s IR seeker before launch.

Integrates into:

Combat management system.

Acquisition modes:

Ship’s radar and optronic trackers.


IR seeker, digital autopilot, inertial.


  • Range:

  • Ceiling:

  • Manoeuvrability:

  • Dimensions:

    • Length:

    • Diameter:

    • Wingspan:

  • Weight:

  • Rocket motor:

  • Airspeed:

  • Time to 9km:

  • Warhead:

  • Fuze:

  • Penetration:



  • 12km.

  • 10km.

  • 40 “G”.


  • 3.32m.

  • 0.18m.

  • 0.5m.

  • 125kg.

  • Mach 2.5.

  • 16 seconds.

  • 23kg.

  • Active proximity.

  • -.


Launch canister:

  • Length:

  • Diameter:

  • Weight:



  • 3.8m.

  • 0.65m.-



South Africa joined the handful of nations to have fielded a functional operational naval anti-missile air defence systems with the successful firing of the Umkhonto IR VLS from aboard the SAS Amatola (F145) in November 2005.


Up to then the club included, inter alia the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, Israel and India.


The navalised Umkhono-IR was developed as part of Project Sitron, the Strategic Defence Package frigate programme and will provide the vessels all-round all-aspect anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence. Umkhonto is perhaps the apex system on the ships.


Prior to the test, then-Sitron project director RAdm (JG) Johnny Kamerman said the firing would be “the ultimate test of all facets of the combat system”. He observed that intercepting an attacking aircraft or missile required the seamless integration – and functioning – of a number of detection systems, tracking means, command posts and weapons and self-defence systems.


“It is the ultimate test of the combat system,” he said, as it requires the ship to detect the threat, correctly analyse the data, allocate a weapon, designate a target, fire the weapon and track both missile and target while guiding the former onto the latter — all in a matter of seconds. Kamerman said both intercepts lasted less than 30 seconds from target detection to simulated destruction. “This proves the defensive capability of the ships and the system one of the most modern system in world,” Kamerman said.


Afterwards Kamerman described the system as a “world beater”, adding: “The tests went off exceptionally well.”


The SAS Amatola fired a missile at a high-speed Skua target drone on 23 November off Cape Agulhas and a second a week later. Both were fired with telemetry warheads to tell developers at Denel’s nearby Overberg Test Range how the missiles were performing. Had real warheads been fitted, both targets would have been destroyed according to the data read-outs.


“Both hits were within the specifications. The ranges achieved were even better than those specified,” Kamerman added. Kamerman said the development of the system began in 1993. South Africa decided to develop its own system even after sanctions was lifted because high-end systems such as the US Aegis were unaffordable — “we can’t afford the launchers, let alone the missiles,” Kamerman explained — and low-end systems like shoulder-launched missiles were “a waste of time”.


Land-based testing ended in July 2005 when the system was adjudged shore-qualified. The testing involved telemetry intercepts of a Skua in various profiles, including low-level, head on and in evasive manoeuvres. The tests culminated in a Skua being destroyed with a “standard warhead”.


The next phase was to do sea acceptance trials on the Amatola in what Kamerman called a “live configuration.” No residue of missile launch was left on the missile deck of the vessel, indicating pyrotechnically correct and safe launch. Furthermore the test launches were conducted in fairly rough sea conditions with significant deck roll and pitch, which indicated a correct integration of the missile launch system into the combat suite including correct incorporation of roll and pitch data from the Inertial Navigation System via the Navigation Distribution System.


The growth potential of this VLS as well as its ability to handle other missiles is unclear. There appears to be space for a booster-version of the Umkhonto and it can be postulated the VLS can fire other missiles of a similar size.


Denel has also drafted a growth path for the weapon and plans to develop an extended-range IR variant fitted with a booster and a range of 22km. The booster will add 65kg in weight and 0.98m in length.


A radar guided version of the Umkhonto, dubbed the “all weather surface-to-air missile” (AWSAM) is also contemplated. This will have a radar seeker in the place of the IR sensor. The standard AWSAM will range to 20km and a extended range variant, AWSAM-E, will fire to 30km, placing the weapon in the medium-range category.


The 2005 tests demonstrated the system’s ability to defeat subsonic targets. Tests conducted during Exercise Good Hope III during 2008 reportedly proved the effectiveness of the system against supersonic targets.

Umkhonto has also been ordered and delivered to Finland and is under consideration by Sweden for fitment aboard its new Visby-class stealth corvettes. Research firm Forecast International puts the value of the deal at $150 million for five systems.

Six systems have been delivered to Finland and have been fitted to four Hamina class missile boats and two Hämeenmaa class minelayers. The Finnish success came against the US-German Rolling Air Frame Missile and the Swedish Bofors Bamse.


The missile is an improvement on the SA High Velocity SAM developed from – and to replace – the Cactus produced for South Africa by Thomson CSF in the 1970s and later adopted by that country as the Crotale.


1 http://www.armscor.co.za/abs/contractdetail.asp?Requirement_ID=10090, accessed January 10, 2008. A further R344 722,50 was spent testing the electromagnetic compatibility of the missiles with the frigate and R592 651,56 on range costs.

2 Denel sales brochure.

3 Umkhonto missile, Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org/wiki/umkhonto_missile.htm, accessed on January 19, 2006.

4 Engineering News, SA missile concludes trial with a bang, www.navy.org.za, accessed January 19, 2006.