Missile acquisition programme will involve industrial participation

20th June 2008 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

South African defence acquisitions, disposals, and research and development agency Armscor has confirmed that there will be defence industrial participation (Dip) obligations attached to the acquisition of Iris-T short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAMs) for the South African Air Force (SAAF).

However, details – such as the value, nature, and beneficiaries of the Dip – will only be released later, perhaps at Africa Aerospace and Defence 2008, which will take place in Cape Town from September 17 to 21. The contract for the new missiles was placed, and the deal announced, in the second half of last month. The value of the acquisition has also not yet been released.

The Iris-T is being obtained to provide the SAAF’s new Gripen fighters – the first of which was handed over to the SAAF earlier this year – with a modern but interim SRAAM until development of the Denel A-Darter fifth-generation SRAAM has been completed. The A-Darter is being developed in a joint programme with Brazil. The Brazilians expect the A-Darter to enter ser- vice in 2015, which would be four years after the last of 26 Gripens has been delivered to the SAAF – hence, South Africa’s need for an interim missile.

The Iris-T is already in oper- ation with the air forces of seven countries, and the first entered service at the end of 2005. To date, some 4 000 of the missiles have been ordered. It has been integrated onto the Boeing F/A-18, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Lock-heed F-16, the Panavia Tor- nado, and – of most importance to South Africa – the Saab Gripen.

The Iris-T was developed in a six-nation programme and South Africa is the second country outside that group to order the missile – the first being Austria, which selected the missile in late 2005 to arm its new Typhoons, with full deliveries being made in 2007. This could imply that deliveries of the Iris-T to the SAAF could start in late 2009.

The missile’s name is an acro- nym for infrared imaging system – tail/thrust vector controlled. It has been developed jointly by companies in Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden, under the leadership of Germany’s Diehl BGT Defence as prime contractor. The Iris-T is in operational service with the air forces of all six consortium member countries, and the German Luftwaffe reports that it has a range of 25 km. In comparison with previous SRAAMs, the Iris-T can acquire targets at a much greater range, is much more manoeuvrable – it can even engage targets behind the launch aircraft – is more accurate, and has a more effective warhead. Its infrared seeker – developed by Diehl – has improved resistance to countermeasures and provides extremely high resolution and target discrimination.

The missile has purposely been designed, in terms of dimensions, mass, and centre-of-gravity, to make it compatible with the US Sidewinder SRAAM, which has for decades been the most widely-used Western SRAAM. The Iris-T missile/launcher interface has also been designed to be compatible with the analogue inter- faces of earlier model Sidewinders as well as with the digital interfaces of modern fighters.

Studies are also under way on integrating the Iris-T on to the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II multirole stealth fighter, which is a latest (fifth) generation combat aircraft being developed in three versions: conventional take-off and landing for the US Air Force (F-35A), aircraft carrier variant for the US Navy (F-35C), and short take-off and vertical landing model for the US Marine Corps, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy (F-35B). A number of other countries, including members of the Iris-T consortium, are, however, also interested in acquiring the F-35A – hence the missile integration studies.