$130m A-Darter missile to be produced in both South Africa and Brazil

9th July 2010 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

It has been revealed in Brazil that the total cost of the development of the A-Darter air-to-air missile (AAM), which is a joint project between the South American country and South Africa, is $130-million. Moreover, when the development of the missile is complete, the weapon will be manufactured on two production lines, one in each partner country. There will be a Brazilian version and a South African version, but the two will be interchangeable.

The A-Darter is a fifth-generation short-range infrared (IR) homing AAM and is being jointly developed under the leadership of Denel Dynamics, part of the South African State-owned Denel defence industrial group.

“National companies are responsible for the reproduction (sic) of the subsystems of the missile and for this [reason] have access to the data of the project and are being equipped to be suppliers,” the Brazilian Air Force told the Brazilian business weekly Valor. “The two countries will have [the] autonomy [that is, independence,] to make the complete missile,” Avibrás president Sami Hassuani explained to the journal. Avibrás is a Brazilian defence company best known for its Astros family of surface-to- surface bombardment rockets. In the A-Darter programme, it is involved in the development of the rocket motor for the missile.

“Along with Denel Dynamics, we are working to develop an autonomous technological solution, of such a nature that Brazil will not depend on foreign components to produce its missile,” added Opto Eletrônica research and development director Mário Stefani. Opto Eletrônica produces lenses, mirrors and proximity fuses, and has supplied components to Brazilian national missile projects, as well as to the country’s space programme (particularly high- and medium-resolution imagers for the China–Brazil Earth Observation Satellite Programme).

The company has four people based with Denel Dynamics in South Africa and another 25 work- ing on the A-Darter in Brazil. It is participating in the development of the missile’s seeker head, the performance of which has been better than expected. Opto Eletrônica will also be supplying components for other Denel projects, Stefani revealed.

The development process for the A-Darter is known to be largely complete and the next stage is the industrialisation of the missile, followed by production. The trans- fer of technology from South Africa and the equipping of the Brazilian companies involved in the programme to manufacture the missile is costing some $109- million, with the funding coming from Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Develop-ment and the Studies and Projects Financier (acronymed BNDES and Finep respectively, in Brazil).

Interestingly, as the agreement between South Africa and Brazil was that the two countries should share the A-Darter development costs on a 50:50 basis, from the point that the South American country joined the programme, and as it is known that Brazil’s share of these costs is $53-million, the total development cost figure of $130-million suggests that South Africa invested $24-million in the A-Darter before Brazil joined the project.

A Brazilian contingent of 46 specialists is working with Denel Dynamics at its facility in Centurion, south of Pretoria. Of these, 19 are from the Brazilian Air Force and 27 from Avibrás, Opto Eletrônica and the third Brazilian partner company in the project, Mectron.
Mectron is Brazil’s missile manufacturer, producing all the country’s missiles, namely the MAA-1 and MAA-1B Piranha IR-homing AAMs, the MAR-1 antiradar missile and the MSS-1.2 anti-armour missile.

Stefani told Valor that the cost of the development of the A-Darter was just 33% of the costs of previous comparable missile programmes in other countries. Hassuani estimated that Brazil could win export orders for between 100 and 200 A-Darters in the first few years of production. It is not known how South Africa and Brazil plan to divide the globe for marketing and sales purposes.