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Denel provides updates on A-Darter and Marlin programs
December 11, 2018
The Denel Dynamics A-Darter, a 5th-generation within visual range air-to-air missile. Photo credit: Denel Dynamics

Denel provides updates on A-Darter and Marlin programs

In its financial report for 2016-2017, Denel Group has outlined its progress in preparing the A-Darter high-off-boresight (HOBS) air-to-air missile (AAM) for serial production as well as its efforts to develop a next-generation beyond visual-range (BVR) AAM under the Marlin program.

In terms of the A-Darter HOBS AAM, Denel states, “[the] missile’s seeker performance qualification flight trials were successfully completed. Its critical design review was completed, thus finalising the design baseline for industrialisation and manufacturing.”

Denel expects to complete the final qualification tests of the A-Darter in 2017. Denel prices the program value of the A-Darter at ZAR 2 billion (i.e. $149.3 million U.S. in 2017). The South African Air Force (SAAF) placed a ZAR 939 million order in 2015. Denel plans to deliver training missiles to the SAAF in late 2017, and the final set of operational A-Darter missiles in Q1 2020. The A-Darter benefits from a thrust-vectoring nozzle for tight maneuvering and an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker for jam-resistant target tracking. It can also be paired with a helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system for target cuing.

Regarding the Marlin, Denel Dynamics had successfully conducted a test launch at Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) in July 2016. Denel states, “The main objective of the test was to prove safe launch of the missile from an aircraft platform, which also showed the missile airframe was stable. This test laid the foundation for captive and guided flight tests and for further technology development of the missile.”

Denel revealed the Marlin in 2014 as a comprehensive platform that can be employed as a BVRAAM and as a medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM). If brought to fruition, the final solution would be powered by a dual-pulse rocket motor and utilize a terminal-stage active radar-homing (ARH) seeker. As a BVRAAM, the Marlin would have a range of 100 km. The range of the SAM is not known, but Denel’s extended range or long-range Umkhonto proposal (Umkhonto ER/LR) was to have a range of 60 km.

To firmly secure the development of the Marlin, Denel Dynamics is seeking a partner to share funding, to support development and guarantee launch orders. The A-Darter is a joint-venture between Denel Group and Brazil’s Avibrás, Mectron and Opto Eletrônica. Brazil issued its A-Darter order in November 2016.

Denel also disclosed two new munitions. First, the company outlined that it undertook flight tests for a “medium range, low-cost guided weapon” for an undisclosed client in early 2017. Denel says, “the weapons released hitting the target within set specifications and the client expressing satisfaction with the weapon’s performance.” Second, Denel Dynamics tested a “long-range IIR [imaging infrared] guided weapon” with results showing “exceptional accuracy.”

Notes & Comments:

Denel did not provide a progress update to the Umkhonto EIR, which was to be a longer-range update to the Umkhonto-series of SAM. The Umkhonto EIR was slated to have a range of 30-35 km, while still using a terminal-stage infrared (IR) seeker. It is likely that the Umkhonto EIR, like many Denel programs, requires an overseas partner to complete development. While unideal, it should be noted that the South African Rand (ZAR) offers the advantage of lower foreign currency outflows for prospective partners, especially in developing world markets, which are Denel’s principal markets. Denel is also amenable to offsets and countertrade measures, which can help limit currency outflow and stimulate client economies.

In terms of prospective clients, Denel Group has identified 10 key target markets: Algeria, Brazil, Kenya, Malaysia, Mozambique, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Algeria and the UAE have been Denel’s leading markets in recent years, especially the UAE as it has acquired the Tariq precision-guided bomb (PGB) kit and N35 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles from Denel Dynamics and Denel Land Systems, respectively.

Denel listing Pakistan echoes the bilateral defence agreement South Africa and Pakistan signed in March. In 2016, Denel Land Systems had demonstrated the T5-52 155 mm/52-calibre self-propelled howitzer in Pakistan, which Denel says were “successful.” The state of Pakistan’s howitzer plans is not known, but in 2016, IHS Jane’s projected that Pakistan could spend $844 million U.S. on howitzers from 2016-2024. In addition, Denel could also look at Pakistan’s light armoured vehicle (and MRAP), aircraft development and manufacturing, and armour/tank programs as prospective market opportunities.

The A-Darter HOBS AAM has also been viewed as a prospective business area. In 2015, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had listed the A-Darter as a HOBS AAM option for the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III[1], which the PAF expects will enter production in 2019 or 2020. With the PAF intent on localizing the supply of its air warfare solutions, most notably current and next-generation combat aircraft, Denel Group could consider pitching a comprehensive air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions development suite for the PAF with co-development and co-production mechanisms. Interestingly, Denel had offered something in this vein to the PAF for the then Super-7 (i.e. JF-17) in 1999. The package included ramjet-powered AAM designs.

[1] 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.