Brazil still pondering second joint missile project with SA

22nd January 2010 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The Brazilian Navy remains interested in South Africa's Umkhonto naval surface-to-air missile (SAM), in particular in proposed longer-range versions.

The Umkhonto – the name translates into English as Spear – is a product of Denel Dynamics, and is in service with the South African Navy and the Finnish Navy. Denel Dynamics is a subsidiary of the State-owned Denel defence industrial group.

The Umkhonto is an infrared (IR) homing missile, and the Denel Dynamics public brochure for it states "Range: 12 000 m", and gives a ceiling of 8 000 m. This first version of the SAM is sometimes referred to as the Umkhonto-IR.

The Brazilian Navy is known to be seeking a SAM with a range of more than 30 km but less than 50 km. (Truly long-range SAMs have a range greater than 50 km - for example, the American RIM-67C Standard SM-2 has a reported range of 40 nautical miles, or some 76 km, while the RIM-67B Standard SM-2 ER version can reach 75 nautical miles, or about 142 km).

There is a project to develop a version of the Umkhonto-IR with greater range, referred to as the Umkhonto-ER, with the suffix letters standing for extended range. This would also be an IR-homing weapon. And there is also a longer-term project to develop a yet longer-ranged version, designated the Umkhonto-R, which will be a radar-homing SAM (beyond a certain range, IR-homing becomes impractical for SAMs). This will require the development of a radar seeker head, which means that the Umkhonto-R will require a significant development process.

The engagement sequence for the Umkhonto-R would most likely be as follows: after target detection and missile launch, the SAM would be steered towards the target by commands from the warship, activating its radar seeker when within range, locking on to, and then intercepting, the target.

In contrast, the engagement sequence for the Umkhonto-IR is (and for the Umkhonto-ER would be): the warship detects a target on its acquisition radar and launches the missile against it; the SAM uses its on-board inertial navigation subsystem to fly itself to a "lock-on point" - the location at which its IR seeker can acquire the target and lock on to it - and then guide itself to interception.

No ranges have been given for the Umkhonto-ER, while various ranges have been suggested by various sources for the Umkhonto-R: 20 km, 25 km and 30 km. It will have to be a bigger weapon than the Umkhonto-IR in order to achieve any of these ranges.

It is believed that the South African Department of Defence is providing funding for the Umkhonto-R project, but not enough to allow a purely national development of the programme within a reasonable time. So Denel is apparently seeking for overseas partners to join the programme and, back in 2008, Engineering News reported that the group had proposed to the Brazilian Navy that it cooperate with in the development of the Umkhonto-R. This would follow the precedent set by the current cooperation between Denel Dynamics and the Brazilian Air Force in the development of the A-Darter air-to-air missile.

Late last year a Brazilian Admiral visited Denel Dynamics for discussions about the Umkhonto programme. Brazil has a programme to acquire large frigates, each of which would displace about 6 000 t (South Africa's new Valour-class frigates each displace about 3 600 t), which would be armed with the longer-ranged SAMs the Brazilian Navy desires.
Cooperating with Denel Dynamics in developing the Umkhonto-R would provide an opportunity for the Brazilians to gain expertise in the design and development of radar-homing technology.

However, there is apparently a problem regarding timescales. The Brazilian Navy hopes to order its new frigates later this year or (more likely) next year or (at the latest) in 2012. This would mean that they would be commissioned into service by 2017 at the latest. However, it seems that Denel Dynamics told the Brazilian Admiral that it would take ten years to jointly develop the Umkhonto-R, giving the long-range SAM an in-service date of 2020.

That leaves the question of whether or not the IR-homing Umkhonto-ER could be made to reach the range the Brazilians desire. Although it might need to be fitted with a second stage to do this, it would not need the development of a new seeker head, and so its development period should be considerably shorter than that for the Umkhonto-R. This would also open the possibility of Brazil adopting the Umkhonto-ER as a first step and then later switching to a jointly-developed Umkhonto-R.



Brazilian Navy needs longer-ranged SAMs for planned large frigates

New versions of SA's Umkhonto SAM under consideration