A-Darter Missile Certified by Brazil and South Africa

 - October 9, 2019, 9:43 PM
A mock-up of an A-Darter is shown next to a South African Air Force Gripen. The missile has some similarities to the Iris-T that is currently used by the SAAF Gripens, but is considerably larger. (photo: David Donald)

A type certificate for the South African/Brazilian Denel A-Darter short-range air-to-air missile (SRAAM) has been granted by the South African Air Force's Directorate of Systems Integrity and the Brazilian Institute for Industrial Development and Coordination. The award acknowledges that the weapon meets the technical, operational, logistical, industrial, and safety requirements of both the South African and Brazilian air forces, and marks the conclusion of the A-Darter development, qualification, and certification program.

South African and Brazilian type certificates were handed over during a ceremony held in Brasilia on September 29. South Africa's Armscor simultaneously handed over the two type certificates to Denel Dynamics and to the Brazilian Air Force's Department of Aerospace Science and Technology (DCTA).

The A-Darter is an IR-homing SRAAM that uses body-lift and thrust vectoring to achieve high angle-of-attack agility. The weapon can be cued onto a target using its own autonomous scan feature or by using the aircraft's radar, an infrared search and track (IRST) system if fitted, or through a helmet-mounted sight.

The missile’s agility, combined with the seeker's large look-angles, enables high off-boresight firings when helmet-designated. The multi-element, two-color imaging infrared seeker was developed by Denel Dynamics partnered with Opto Eletrônica and has a look angle of 180 degrees and a track rate of 120 degrees per second.

The streamlined design of the wingless airframe gives very low aerodynamic drag and confers maximum ranges beyond those achieved by traditional short-range missiles, using lock-on-after-launch capabilities to reach beyond visual and infrared detection ranges. A range of 14 miles (23 km) has been claimed. The guidance system incorporates a Collins Aerospace SiIMU02 solid-state inertial measurement unit for mid-course guidance.

A-Darter employs a low launch signature motor, with the absence of aluminum powder in the propellant inhibiting the production of a thick smoke trail. It is fitted with a laser proximity fuze and uses digital processing to deliver better image detection, false target rejection, and multi-mode ECCM.

Development of the A-Darter (then known as the V3E Agile Darter) by Denel Dynamics (formerly Kentron) began in 1995, in an attempt to produce a state-of-the-art, ITAR-free, wingtip-launched air-to-air missile. South African budgetary constraints meant that the program initially proceeded slowly. After a three-year negotiation, the Brazilian Government invested $52 million in the project, and Brazilian companies Mectron (later SIATT), Avibras and Atech joined the program in October 2006. n December 2012, the Brazilian air force commissioned Denel to build a factory for local production of the missile in São José dos Campos.

Ground seeker tests were concluded in January 2010, and trajectory guidance and agility flight tests were carried out in February 2010 before captive-carry flight trials on the Gripen in Sweden, which concluded in March 2010.

The first successful launch from a Gripen took place on June 17, 2010, and several test firings were made from a SAAF Gripen at Denel's Overberg Test Range in January 2012. In March 2012, Denel Dynamics announced that the missile had entered the qualification phase. It was then expected that the missile would be ready for production by the end of 2013, with plans to deliver training missiles to the SAAF in late 2017, leading to the delivery of operational A-Darter missiles in the first quarter of 2020. 

Denel Dynamics’s missile development project team completed the formal qualification review of the A-Darter in August 2019, and the missile has now been integrated, qualified, and cleared on the SAAF’s Saab Gripen C/D fighters. The A-Darter will replace the Diehl IRIS-T air-to-air missile, which was acquired as a stop-gap. It is eventually expected to equip the SAAF’s BAE Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers.

In Brazil, the A-Darter will be integrated on the new F-39E/F Gripen (Gripen E/F) fighters, and subsequently on the Alenia Aermacchi (Leonardo) A-1M (AMX) ground-attack aircraft and the Northrop F-5BR (F-5E/F). The Pakistan Air Force listed the A-Darter as a potential option for the JF-17 Thunder Block-III in 2015, and Pakistan may be the country that has reportedly “expressed interest” in the missile.