South African State-owned defence industrial group Denel has announced the successful completion of the guided missile qualification test series for the A-Darter infrared (IR) homing short range air-to-air missile system.
The A-Darter is a fifth-generation missile that uses an imaging IR seeker system. The weapon was conceived in South Africa and jointly developed by South Africa and Brazil. It will be employed by both the South African Air Force (SAAF) and the Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira – FAB).
The programme has been led by Denel Dynamics, Denel’s missile, unmanned air vehicle and space technology operation. The Brazilian companies involved in the programme are Akaer Engenharia, Avibrás, and SIATT (previously Mectron).
The A-Darter will be manufactured on two production lines, one in each partner country. It has been reported in the past that there will be a Brazilian version and a South African version, but the two will be interchangeable. Denel Dynamics reports that other countries have also already expressed interest in the missile.
The qualification test series involved four guided launches, all against Skua high-speed target drones (another Denel Dynamics product). Each launch demonstrated a different air combat manoeuvre scenario. As a result, the A-Darter’s full performance was successfully demonstrated. The entire test series was conducted at Denel’s Overberg Test Range, on the south coast of the Western Cape.
The first test launch was done in the lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) mode, employing the missile’s advanced algorithm suite. The A-Darter was launched into free flight and then, late in this phase, acquired its Skua target and scored a direct hit on it. This demonstrated the accuracy of the weapon’s target predictor. It further showed that the missile could carry out target interceptions beyond IR detection range when using its LOAL capability.
The second test was a close-range chase air combat manoeuvre engagement. In this scenario, the missile was launched under high ‘g’ forces (one g is equivalent to the force of gravity at sea level on earth). After launch, it executed a hard 180º turn and successfully intercepted the target drone. This showed that the A-Darter’s seeker covers wide look-angles and its thrust vector control system gives it great agility. It also confirmed the weapon’s high off-boresight launch capability. (That means the fighter does not have to be pointing at the target before it can launch the missile.)
The last two tests were conducted under electronic countermeasure (ECM) conditions and involved ‘blow-through’ air combat manoeuvre scenarios. (‘Blow-through’ means closing on the enemy at high speed with no intention of engaging in a dogfight – basically, hit and run.) These tests confirmed that the performance of the A-Darter’s electronic counter countermeasures suite (to neutralise the target’s ECM) met its design specifications.
The tests were observed by representatives of South African defence acquisition, disposals and research and development agency Armscor, the SAAF and the FAB. They established that the missile’s performance fully met the requirements of the two air forces. These tests also marked the end of the A-Darter guided test launches programme.
The A-Darter will equip the SAAF’s BAE Systems Hawk lead-in fighter-trainers and its Saab single-seat Gripen C and two-seat Gripen D fighters. The weapon has already been fully integrated on the Gripen C and D, with no aircraft or missile launch restrictions. In Brazil, it will be used to equip the FAB’s new-generation Saab Gripen E single-seat and Gripen F two-seat fighters. Denel reports that it can be fitted to older-generation fighters as well.