Brazilian side of joint A-Darter missile programme hit by serious budget cuts

15th April 2016 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The Brazilian side of the joint South African/Brazilian A-Darter missile development programme has been significantly affected by severe emergency budget cuts that have taken place in the South American country. The A-Darter is a fifth- generation infrared (IR) homing air-to-air missile (AAM). Fortunately, development of the missile has been concluded and last year South African defence acquisition, disposals and research and development agency Armscor placed a production contract for the missile with the lead company on the project, Denel Dynamics, part of South Africa’s State-owned Denel defence industrial group. This contract was for missiles for the South African Air Force (SAAF) and covers five years.

The aim of the two partner countries was to set up two production lines, one in each country. The Brazilian companies that are partners in the programme are Mectron (now part of Odebrecht Defence and Technology), Avibras and Opto Eletrônica. A source in one of the Brazilian companies associated with the programme told the Brazilian Defesanet news website that “[t]here is an unknown factor for the continuity of the project, since the investments did not continue”, implying that Brazilian funding for the A-Darter was terminated.

Mectron engineer Wagner do Amaral Silva confirmed to the website that the programme had suffered budget cuts and that the future of the project was unclear. “It would be excellent if we knew the future of the various projects we have with the [Brazilian] air force, in which more than $300-million of Brazilian taxpayers’ money has been invested.” (Mectron is Brazil’s missile manufacturer, producing all of the country’s missiles, namely the MAA-1 and MAA-1B Piranha IR-homing AAMs, the MAR-1 anti-radar missile and the MSS-1.2 anti-armour missile.)

It is not inconceivable that the Brazilian Air Force could be forced to cancel the A-Darter acquisition, due to lack of funds. Defesanet reports that the air force has received presen- tations on rival missiles, including the Diehl Iris-T and Iris-T SL from Germany, which are going to be integrated on the latest generation Gripen E and F fighters by Saab. Brazil has 36 Saab Gripen Es and Fs on order and would have to pay for the integration of the A-Darter on to these itself. (The SAAF operates the current generation Gripen C and D models; the integration of the A-Darter on to these would not automatically transfer to the new E and F versions.)

The A-Darter is highly agile, lightweight (with a mass of 93 kg) and, with a lock-on after launch capability, it can be launched against targets even when they are out of the range of its IR seeker. It is 2.98 m long and has a dia- meter of 166 mm. The SAAF will equip its Gripen fighters and Hawk lead-in fighter- trainers with the missile. The original plan in Brazil was to initially use it to arm that country’s modernised F-5M fighters and probably also its A-1M attack jets and then, later, the Gripen E and F.

Currently, Brazil is suffering from a severe recession, and is close to outright depression. The economy shrank by 3.8% last year and by 7% over the past two years and is expected to further decline by about 3% this year. Unemployment is at 9.5% (high for Brazil) and increasing. A gigantic corruption crisis centred on the predominantly State-owned oil group Petrobras has triggered a huge political crisis and could see the impeach- ment of the country’s President.