Delivery of first operational A-Darters scheduled for December

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Slow progress is being recorded with the long-delayed A-Darter air-to-air missile being manufactured by Denel Dynamics for the SA Air Force (SAAF), with delivery of trainer and operational missiles scheduled for later this year.

Armscor, in a briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on 21 February, stated that an industrialisation/production contract with Denel has been amended, allowing for work to continue.

This will allow Denel to deliver “trainer missiles” from June this year and deliver the first four operational missiles during December. Delivery of the “final contracted operational missiles” according to the Armscor presentation, will happen “during January 2028”.

Armscor in March 2015 placed a production contract with Denel. The contract called for the delivery of all operational missiles by October 2017. The Armscor presentation to the PCDMV has it “execution of the contract for industrialisation and production had stalled for in excess of four years” (primarily due to reasons of liquidity and subsequent resignation of key personnel at Denel Dynamics).

Last year, Armscor investigated alternative options to resuscitate the programme, and presented various options to the Air Force Command Council in July. A final proposal was presented to the Council in September 2023, which was accepted, allowing the programme to be ‘unlocked.’

“Denel is currently executing the programme with deliverables as agreed with the SAAF”, Armscor reported.

Last year, Armscor told the PCDMV that due to funding and skills constraints at Denel Dynamics it had developed a plan to have other local defence companies work with Denel to industrialise and manufacture the missile.

The A-Darter was developed jointly with Brazil under Project Assegai, with Denel Dynamics to deliver eight practice missiles, 21 trainer missiles, and 41 operational missiles to the SAAF. Continued delays mean the A-Darter is already seeing some obsolescence in certain areas.

While it waits on the A-Darter, the South African Air Force continues to use the interim IRIS-T missile, which was acquired from Germany in 2009. The Air Force does not have a beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.