By Bilal Khan
Engineering News, a leading South African news outlet, recently reported that Brazil is likely to walk away from the A-Darter within-visual-range air-to-air missile (WVRAAM) program. The cause appears to be a result of stringent cuts to the country’s defence spending, particularly towards development.
The A-Darter is a 5th-generation WVRAAM designed and jointly developed by the South African defence vendor Denel Dynamics and its Brazilian counterpart Mectron. As a high off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile, the A-Darter could be slaved to a helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system, enabling the pilot to cue the missile to its target using his or her own eyesight.
The A-Darter’s development was formally initiated in 2007 through a $130 million U.S. deal between the two countries, the missile had entered production in South Africa in 2015, and the first batch of missiles were transferred to the South African Air Force in February 2016.
Under the agreement, Brazil was to acquire its own production facility. Unfortunately, that may not be possible for the time being. Moreover, the Brazilian Air Force was reportedly evaluating the German Diehl BGT IRIS-T, which is slotted for integration on the Swedish Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen, which Brazil is acquiring as part of its fleet modernization efforts. The reason why it is looking at the IRIS-T has to do with the fact that it would need to pay extra for integrating the A-Darter onto the Gripen (whereas Saab is committed to already integrating the IRIS-T as part of its general product offering).
That said, Brazil did pay for the development of the A-Darter, and its support has enabled at least Denel Dynamics in South Africa to produce and market the missile. At present, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is believed to be interested in the A-Darter for use on the JF-17 Thunder. This was officially noted by the Air Vice Marshal Arshad Malik, the Chief Project Director for the JF-17 program.
Given the fact that at least 150 JF-17s will need to be supported with a HOBS AAM, an order by the PAF could be a comparatively lucrative windfall for Denel Dynamics and even Mectron, considering it has a stake in the program. Pakistan has had dealings with both vendors in the past, and it will be interesting to see how the PAF engages with them considering it would be both the launch export customer as well as highest volume buyer of the A-Darter. We hope for technology transfer to enable local production, but it is likely the PAF would settle for a large off-the-shelf purchase from South Africa instead.
As a general point, the acquisition of a 5th-gen WVRAAM and HMD/S for the JF-17 would be an excellent way for the PAF to bill the Thunder as a credible defensive asset. Granted, it is no top tier fighter, but the capacity to integrate top tier capabilities onto the platform helps bridge certain gaps, particularly against more capable adversaries.
 Alan Warnes. “JF-17 Thunder: Pakistan’s multi-role fighter.” Note: a special publication released by the Pakistan Air Force during the Paris Air Show of 2015. – See more at: http://quwa.org/2016/04/11/ideas-jf-17-block-iiis-helmet-mounted-display-sight-system/#sthash.m2u9pamJ.dpuf