in Defence / Features

Adaptable A-Darter homes in on its first production orders

Posted 13 March 2020 · Add Comment

A type certificate has been granted for the South African/Brazilian Denel V3E A-Darter infrared homing short-range air-to-air missile (SRAAM), marking the conclusion of the missile’s development, qualification and certification programme. Jon Lake reports.

Two type certificates were formally handed over during a ceremony in Brasilia, Brazil late last year.
South Africa’s Armscor simultaneously handed over certificates and the A-Darter (Agile Darter) data pack to Denel Dynamics and the Brazilian Air Force’s Department of Aerospace Science and Technology (DCTA).
The award of a type certificate by the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) Directorate Systems Integrity and the Brazilian Institute for Industrial Development and Co-ordination demonstrates that A-Darter meets the operational, technical, logistical, industrial and safety requirements of both organisations and marks a major milestone the for the missile.
The end of development and type certification is expected to lead to the first production orders for the missile to equip Brazilian F-39E/F Gripen and SAAF Gripen C/D fighter jets.
The A-Darter has already been integrated, qualified, and cleared on the SAAF’s Saab JAS39 Gripen C/D fighters, and it is ultimately expected to replace the Diehl IRIS-T air-to-air missile, which was acquired for the Gripens as a stop-gap weapon to allow them to provide air defence for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
The Brazilian Air Force will now work with Saab to integrate the missile with its own F-39E/F Gripen (Gripen E/F) fighters.
The A-Darter is not just a Gripen weapon; it is designed to support integration on to fourth-generation and older generation fighter aircraft.
Initial applications are expected to include the SAAF’s BAE Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers, as well as the Brazilian Air Force’s Northrop F-5BR (F-5E/F) fighters and Leonardo A-1M (AMX) ground-attack aircraft.
Other exports are likely to follow. In 2015, for example, the Pakistan Air Force listed the A-Darter as a high off-bore sight (HOBS) AAM option for the Block-III version of the JF-17 Thunder.
The A-Darter is a fifth-generation SRAAM that was conceived as a state-of-the-art, international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR)-free, wingtip-mounted weapon, with lock-on after launch (LOAL) capabilities. It was intended to provide a viable alternative to weapons like the AIM-9X, IRIS-T, ASRAAM and R73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’).
The missile weighs 93kg, has a length of 2.98m, a diameter of 16.6cm, and a wingspan of 48.8cm across the tail fins. It uses thrust vectoring and body-lift for high-angle-of-attack agility, manoeuvring at up to 100G.
The large look-angles allowed by the wide angle seeker and the agility of the airframe allow A-Darter to be used in HOBS helmet-designated firings.
The A-Darter is also capable of making long-range intercepts beyond infrared (IR) detection range using the missile’s lock-on-after-launch capability, while the streamlined wingless airframe design generates low aerodynamic drag, allowing it to reach ranges beyond those of traditional short-range missiles.
Development of the A-Darter began in 1995, initially under South African auspices, with Denel Dynamics (formerly Kentron) as the contractor. Brazilian companies Mectron (later SIATT), Avibras, Opto Eletrônica and Atech joined the programme in 2006 after the Brazilian Government invested $52 million in the programme, through a contract between the Brazilian Air Force and ARMSCOR.
Prototype missile rounds were sent to Saab AB to begin the integration of the missile on the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. Ground-seeker tests were concluded in January 2010, while trajectory guidance and agility flight-tests were performed in February 2010. Captive flight-trials ended a month later. The first successful in-flight launch of an A-Darter from a Gripen was achieved on June 17 2010.
The missile entered the qualification phase in March 2012 and several test firings were carried out from a Gripen at Denel’s Overberg Test Range.
In December 2012, the Brazilian Air Force commissioned Denel to build a factory in São José dos Campos. This was originally intended to be ready for production by the end of 2013.
In March 2015, the SAAF ordered an undisclosed number of missiles, and Denel planned to deliver training missiles to the SAAF in late 2017, with the final set of operational A-Darters following in Q1 2020.
After some delays, Denel Dynamics completed the formal qualification review of the A-Darter in August 2019, leading to the award of type certification.
 

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