A-Darter Air-to-Air Missile (AAM), South Africa

A-Darter air-to-air missile

A-Darter, also known as V3E Agile Darter, is a fifth-generation short range, air-to-air missile (SRAAM) developed in South Africa. The AAM is designed to meet the challenges which may come from conflict against future air combat fighters.

The missile system completed several successful test launches in January 2012. It entered the final qualification phase in March 2012 and is expected to be ready for production by 2013.

The missile will enter service with the South African Air Force (SAAF) and Brazilian Air Force (FAB) in 2014.

The SAAF is planning to equip the missile on its 26 Saab Gripen fighter jets and 24 Hawk Mk120 fleet. The FAB is expected to integrate it on Northrop's F-5E/F Tiger II, F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and future F-X2 fighters.

Joint development programme for the A-Darter short range missile

South Africa began its plans to develop the A-Darter missile in 1995. A lack of funds, however, delayed the development, despite the SAAF adopting the project. In 2006, Brazil joined in the development programme. The joint development was started in March 2007.

Denel Group was contracted for the co-development of the SRAAM, in April 2007. Other collaborators involved include Denel Dynamics, Mectron, Avibrás (rocket motor) and Opto Eletrônica (seeker head).

Investment towards the missiles development was ZAR1bn ($130m), co-funded by both SAAF and FAB. The missile development programme is expected to have generated 200 technical jobs and 1,200 indirect jobs. It is expected to have an export market of ZAR2bn ($257m).

A-Darter is expected to be more economical than the Infra Red Imaging System Tail / Thrust Vector-Controlled SRAAM (IRIS-T) which was delivered to the SAAF in March 2010. The first launch test of the A-Darter was completed using a Gripen fighter, at the SAAF's test grounds at Overberg, in June 2010. Several flight tests were conducted on Gripen at missile angles of 12G and about 13,700m altitude.

Integration of the A-Darter missile and the fire testing on the SAAF Saab JAS39 Gripen was completed in July 2011.

High explosive (HE) warhead and systems of the A-Darter SRAAM

The A-Darter is 2.98m (9.78ft) long and 0.16m (0.52ft) in diameter. It has four fixed delta control fins at the rear and two strakes along the sides. The missile weighs 90kg.

It carries a high explosive (HE) warhead and has a range of ten kilometres. It is powered by a solid propulsion system. The missile has a track rate of 120°/s and a seeker angle of 180° for countermeasure resistance. It also features lock-on after launch and memory tracking for higher range intercepts, and is compatible with Sidewinder stations.

The tail-controlled AAM is powered by a boost-sustain rocket motor and uses thrust vector flight control. Its wingless airframe and low drag enable the A-Darter to have a higher range than the traditional SRAAMs. The missile system is designed with a highly agile airframe for close combat in electronic countermeasures (ECM) environments.

It is guided by two-colour thermal imaging infrared homing with laser fuse. It features a multimode electronic counter countermeasures (ECCM) suite for higher view angles.

The SiIMU02, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) from Atlantic Inertial Systems (formerly BAE Systems), provides the mid-course guidance for the missile. Solid-state technology of the IMU provides accurate measurement of angular rate and acceleration range of up to ±9,000°/s, ±500°/s and ±500°/s in R, P and Y-axes respectively. It has a linear acceleration range of up to ±30g.

When integrated, the missile can interface with the aircraft using LAU-7 type launcher mechanical rails and MIL-STD-1760 / 1553 avionics bus system. It can be designated to a target using autonomous scan feature of the missile, helmet sight or aircraft's radar.

Variations of the SAAF and FAB's V3E Agile Darter air-to-air missile

The proposed future versions of the A-Darter include the A-Darter Mk 2, A-Darter Mk 3, A-Darter Light, A-Darter anti-shipping missile (ASM) and A-Darter Extended Range.

Denel Dynamics is also developing a new radar-guided, beyond-visual-range AAM (BVRAAM) missile called B-Darter. A surface-to-air missile (SAM) version of the A-Darter AAM is expected to be developed for the Brazilian Army. The SAM version of A-Darter will, however, need a launcher system and additional booster.

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