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Keep an Eye Out for the Denel Dynamics Marlin Air-to-Air Missile

07 December 2015

By Bilal Khan

South Africa’s Denel Dynamics is an interesting company. Although they are in possession of some of the world’s advanced and commercially available air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions, they are fairly low-key. While many are familiar with the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), Russian Vympel R-77 and European MBDA MICA, not as many seem to know about the Denel R-Darter. The R-Darter was the mainstay beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) of the South African Air Force (SAAF) from 1995 to around 2008 (at which point it was ostensibly retired alongside the SAAF’s Cheetah C multirole fighters). The R-Darter BVRAAM was used by the SAAF alongside the Denel U-Darter, a within visual range air-to-air missile (WVRAAM).

In 2007, building upon its experience and technological base, Denel Dynamics initiated the development of the A-Darter, a 5th generation high-off-boresight (HOBS) WVRAAM, in partnership with a group of Brazilian firms, among them Opto Eletrônica, Mectron and Avibrás. The A-Darter cleared its initial tests in 2012 and was slotted to enter service with the South African and Brazilian air forces in 2014. In terms of the marketed technology features, the A-Darter look like an impressive system: The WVRAAM uses an imaging infrared (IIR) homing seeker along with thrust-vectoring nozzles, enabling it to chase its heat-emitting target at close quarters with a high level of maneuverability. The A-Darter can be cued using a helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system as well.

From what is apparent, Denel Dynamics’ partnership with its Brazilian counterparts was the best thing that could have happened for the A-Darter, as evidenced by the fairly smooth development track of the program since its joint-initiation. In fact, the missile may very well have its first large export order on the horizon considering that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) singled out the A-Darter as a potential option for the JF-17 Block-III.

Now with the A-Darter’s baseline development complete, Denel is looking to put its next-generation BVRAAM program into gear. The company’s work on a next-generation BVRAAM has been an ongoing development: It was initially known as the T-Darter, but was then re-designated as the B-Darter in 2011. The new program, now designated as ‘Marlin’, is envisaged as a 100km active radar-homing air-to-air and surface-to-air missile (SAM) (Jane’s). Granted, the SAM aspect will likely end up as a medium-range system (as is the case with most medium-to-long range AAMs repurposed as SAMs).

The Marlin is an impressive and ambitious program. For example, not only would it equip the firm with one of only a handful of next-generation BVRAAMs on the market, but also potentially a reliable medium-range (40-50km) SAM system that could be used on land and on sea. With such goals in mind, it is clear that South Africa would not find a better partner than Brazil, who has the economic scale and technological expertise to help develop such munitions and export them, even to relatively difficult markets such as Pakistan (recall the sale of 100 Mectron MAR-1 anti-radiation missiles to the Pakistan Air Force in 2008-2009). The Marlin is scheduled to run through its first air-to-air tests in November 2016.

Should the Marlin succeed and complete its development, it is possible – maybe even likely – that it will cement South Africa’s Denel Dynamics as well as potentially Brazil’s Mectron et. al as top competitors in the modern munitions industry. Together, the two parties have successful orders (with real follow-on potential) in emerging defence markets such as the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Pakistan, programs such as the Marlin will merely solidify those gains, and expand them.

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  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 8, 2015 7:29 am 0Likes

    man…that’s a lot of eyes to keep out now… 😉
    are you going to do any new piece on block 3?

  • by saqrkh
    Posted December 8, 2015 2:22 pm 0Likes

    Keep growing them eyes.

    There’s a piece about the PAF’s next gen options coming up, I’ll definitely be discussing Block-3 on it (in a different context of course).

    But this Marlin AAM is definitely worth considering for JF-17, it’d be nice if Pakistan can acquire it and the A-Darter with local licensed manufacturing.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 8, 2015 7:57 pm 0Likes

    I think Denel is one of the strong contenders for JF-17 as is south africa for its military coop with pakistan. Gripen program has highly benefited from south african missiles, so JF-17 will too. PAF seems to be on the look out but this will be a reality not before 3 years.

    I hope MBDA can offer JF-17 more solutions in future. Highly possible with rafale deal almost collapsing to 2 squadrons.

  • by MT
    Posted December 8, 2015 8:14 pm 0Likes

    Chinese platform scare all western companies.Pak have bad track record of proliferating agosta submarine design to China

    Denel can sell the A-darter BVRAAM as they can make good money 2-3 mill$/piece.

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 8, 2015 10:54 pm 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqus saqrkh

    Could you also discuss about PAF 5 generation plane I have heard PAF is is taking interest in F35 A and negotiating with three difference countries . Write something about 5 generation jet which one is suitable for PAF specially when India is acquiring much advance jet after 2020.

  • by saqrkh
    Posted December 9, 2015 3:25 am 0Likes

    I’ll have an article up in a couple of days.

  • by saqrkh
    Posted December 9, 2015 6:23 am 0Likes

    Besides maybe MICA-IR (to pair with IRST) there isn’t much else PAF would want from MBDA. But Thales, maybe a different story, the TopSight-E looks interesting…

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 9, 2015 7:27 am 0Likes

    Pakistan can offer guarantees on this concern, as with F-16 has been done. In any case, JF-17 will still see south african, european, and chinese systems installed. PAF is keen on making it work.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 9, 2015 7:51 am 0Likes

    Lets see what Mod has to tell us.
    My thoughts are that India’s 5th gen episode is at least 7 years away for IAF to even start inducting PAK-FA. It’s not completely done with its testing and i’m guessing commercial production will start not before 2 years, after which Russia will adhere to RuAF needs before turning to India, since there is practically no chance of russia allowing india to locally manufacture this jet parallely. India also wants a lot of customizations in PAK-FA which will add more delays and costs. Remember that PAK-FA is an entirely new plane, so we never know how it will perform down the lane. It would be interesting if saqrkh can tell us what weapon systems (missiles etc) T-50 will sport.

    I think PAF should hold off its plans for chinese 5th gen plane and see how J-31 improves and performs in next air shows or if PAF pilots fly it. It is a pretty bad plane in current form, needs new engines and no one is sure of its under-the-hood capabilities. I think PAF has only shown an initial interest, but has not committed to anything, which is wise. On the other hand, Practically PAF has only three options for 5th gen fighter. J-31, PAF-FA, or F-35A. Its safe to rule out PAF-FA sale to pakistan, which leaves it to J-31 and F-35, unless turkey can really get its program exhibited in next 5 years. I do not think that US is going to allow F-35A sales to Pakistan anytime soon in next 5-7 years, it simply could be never. We’ll just have to wait and watch…

  • by MT
    Posted December 9, 2015 6:43 pm 0Likes

    1. US has orders booked for F-35 till 2025
    2. T-50/Pak-FA is still 5+ year late as you rightly point out but as per agreement both countries will received the aircraft more or less at same time.
    India is financing 50% of cost and Russians are making 100 of tech with Indian money. so It all depends upon the final details in the contract.

    India can also walk out of Pak-Fa as they are almost 50 defects in current prototype and Russian seems to have missed the bus

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 9, 2015 6:54 pm 0Likes

    i think PAK-FA will eventually go into production and induction for both Russia and India, but not before 5-7 years that we will start seeing something in IAF at least. Pretty sure india will not walk out of it.

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 9, 2015 9:09 pm 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqus @BilalHKhan:disqus Any thing on JF17 E new variant with two seats cockpit jet? It seems PAF is working on two different jets one is JF17 block 3 and another is two seater seems like a heavy assault jet with more payload and such better avionics and much more features

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 10, 2015 9:15 am 0Likes

    Yes work on two seater is confirmed. It will be a dual role jet, for LIFT-like role as well as able to take on regular duties. Nothing beyond that has at least gone before my eyes. I believe 2015 and 2016 have and will be the ground work time for JF17 twin seater and block 3 and we will be starting to get practical details in later half of 2016. There’s possibly design work and behind-the-curtain testing going on. It’s pretty much signaled from PAF that JF-17 will be a substantial upgrade from block 2, so we can expect all the better features of 4.5+ gen fighter. The only area that i’m not sure about is if PAF will try to do something to increase loiter time for JF-17 and also if there has been any decision to have more composites.

  • by bla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 11:33 am 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqus I think the best thing for PAF is to incoorperate a advance turbo fan engine like AL35 with thrust vectoring and nozzles on its back end or can request Russia for a customize verion of a Turbo Fan . China and Pakistan together can work on the aerodynamics , radars and BVR (Beyond Visual Range BVR) technology . It would more likely be a variant of SU 35 with single engine 😀 . If the production start even in 2019 PAF is the winner. Indian Rafael and SU 30MKK will loose . PAF will have a greater Edge

  • by bla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 11:40 am 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqus @saqrkh:disqus
    any one of you check the updates with Turkish TFX 5 Gen air craft ? Turkey said its indegenious
    than Rolls royce came in and EJ200 turbon fan engine would be in
    coorperated . Second thing they are talking to SAAB and they will provide them off the shelve solution . Budget for the project is 10 billion. But European solution provider will atleast cost 60 to 70 billion dollar and the worst thing is the Program would start production in 2030 . Turkey want to produce single engine double engine both type of combat jets . Why question is there is no need of TFX until 2030 F 35 would be more stable and a bit cheaper most of the nation in the world can acquire it . Dont you think its a waste of money ?

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 10, 2015 12:36 pm 0Likes

    Hi, Do you mean AL-41 found on SU-35? If that is the case, i doubt PAF would ever do that for many reasons. It is a much bigger engine and this would mean changing the air frame of JF17 followed by new testing. It’s more fantastical. The major problem is that AL-41 is way more fuel hungry than RD-93. That would decrease the jf-17 loiter time even more. We have to be realistic here on so many levels. The best option for JF17 will be an upgraded RD-93 with increased thrust and possibly full FADEC controls.
    I doubt SU-35 is ever happening.
    I doubt F-35 is ever happening.

    What will happen is JF-17 block 3 and a next-gen fighter that PAF will introduce by 2020. JF-17 will become mainstay of PAF in numbers around 150 – 200, supported by F-16s and next gen fighter. I think at the end of the day, J-31 will see PAF induction – i just hope PAF can use its leverage to get chinese to pull up socks on it.

    Rafale for india is 7 years away. IAF will not have 36 rafales in service before another decade. That is enough time for PAF to do many many things.

    In an aerial war, Rafale and upgraded mirages are THE only real threat PAF will face.

  • by bla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 3:29 pm 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqusJF 17 could have more than one variant JF 17 block 3 which is a light combat jet . JF 17 E variant a heavy combat jet which could be with a customized AL series engine with more payload imagine a engine which can give you a speed of between mach 2 to 2.5 a supersonic jet . Once the air frame get modified with new feature like compositie material and aerodynamics like an European jet possibly Typoon or Gripen . Than the next step would be advanced radar and fire power which could be updated step by step . A heay combat jet like JF 17 E with two pilots can become a serious threat to any 4.5 generationm fighter in the world .Rafeal and SU 30 MKI are PAF opponents real threat . PAF had to build a potential to knock them down in next 5 years .What do you think about J-20 instead of J-31 ? J 20 more stable also 5 generation could be useful in CPEC . After 2020 PAF can still provide updates on JF17 E variant by improving the radar and Fire power . Air frame and engine would remain the same . It would also be interesting to have a jet in the fleet which can last for 40 years and can fly around 15000 hours to 20,000hours

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 10, 2015 4:36 pm 0Likes

    I support PAF having a JF-17 “NG” and that idea has been floated on this forum earlier. Specifics can vary if it is to be single or twin engine but the idea itself is actually making way into PAF strategy since PAF does need a heavier jet. Its a simple cost benefit analysis. If PAF is able to get it off the shelf, it will do that. Otherwise, we can always see JF-17 v2 happening with bigger body – albeit that will have to be a new jet – though i do not see anything like that happening before 2025 (and it will never happen unless PAF ditches J-31 as well as no other option becomes possible, i would then support PAF’s next JV with Turkey and China both with a business model built around F-35 to gather partner financing from Egypt and like minded countries interested in buying it.)
    Realistically to counter Rafales, i believe PAF will continue to buy F-16s and post 2020 it might ask or be offered block 61+ vipers. Those will offset Rafale factor just enough.

    On J-20, at least there has been no interest from PAF shown. I believe with pakistan and chinese relationship, PAF can always get J20 goodies installed in J31, specially for PAF- and it is what PAF might be thinking. At this point, to me both J20 and J31 are technology demonstrators. We cant expect much from these machines.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 10, 2015 4:59 pm 0Likes

    You know, the only countries that can actually claim to have indigenous capability in producing jets, are either Russia, US, or France. Everyone else is bluffing around.
    Turkey has no expertise to produce a fighter jet on its own and it won’t have until 2030 or 2050. I believe at this point, Pakistan has more know how on fighter jets than Turkey can claim. No offence to turkey. And SAAB itself does not produce Gripen on its own and SAAB’s 5th gen program is by no means indigenous. The reason for turkey trying own program is most likely independence from US platforms to a certain extent. Exactly what pakistan did. It’s a good path, if they can make it work. These days its not cheap to produce a jet fighter. The other reason being, F-35 does not qualify to be a 5th gen fighter fully.

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 6:12 pm 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqus PAF already spend around 500 million to develop a JF 17 which are like spending pennies on defense military hardware . Instead of asking US for F 16 s which wouldn’t be easy for Pakistan to acquire in a large number .Developing a heavier jet like JF 17E even with a single engine post 2020 with a budget of around 2 billion dollar in cooperation with China would definitely improve PAF strength in air . From the export point of view a Pakistan China combat jet which can threaten western jets like Rafael, Typhoon ,Grippen would definitely make an impression in the world . China seems to have good expertise in air frame and radars along with fire power which can be utilized. Russia can supply us a customized efficient engine which can have a speed of mach 2. The backbone of PAF would be 4 and 4.5 generation mainly if PAF is able to add a heavy fighter equivalent to European fighter that would really add a lot of fire power . A couple of 5 generation can be added in future if possible . Problem with 5 Gen . are they are really too much expensive and the cost of maintenance would also be too high the technology is relatively new and is not that stable . I dont think J 31 would be a better choice the jet is in early phase of development and PLA is not interested in acquiring this platform but J-20 on the other hand is considered an equivalent of F 22 raptor . PAF should give it a try .One better possibility for PAF to counter the threat of PAK FA from India would be to put a surface to air missile system after 2020 like S400 Chinese equivalent HQ 19 .Along with will at least make the IAF vulnerable and there dreams of using BVR against PAF would remain a nightmare . PAF is ware of all the challenges and is working day and night to give the best .

  • by MT
    Posted December 10, 2015 6:31 pm 0Likes

    1. RD-93 is the best suited engine for JF but a modified engine with more thrust and FADEC will suit the needs for block IV.
    Dont see how this engine can power AESA in block III
    In that case, the timeline for block 3 will be pushed further
    if Pak decides to wait for upgraded engine
    2. Rafale induction time is from 2019 to 2022( 9 plane delivery/y)while India signs the deal once French prez comes to India on republic day
    So its precisely 7 yrs from Jan 2016.
    3. India is expecting to have AESA version of Tejas from 2019. But public sector HAL is highly unreliable integrator of aircraft. The recent govt decision to award Tata aerospace with Su30 spares, components manufacturing business. Not to forget the C-295 assembling deal With Airbus & many other fuselage, radome manufacturing with foreign MNC ; suggest entry of Tata aerospace to offset HAL will help India in next decade.
    Post 2020, I see Tata Aerospace taking leading role in 5th Gen fighter development for India

    4. Mirage overhaul ll take another 3 yrs

    5. Jaguar is also being fitted with EL/M-2032 radar & Honeywell engine

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 6:34 pm 0Likes

    @jigsaww:disqus Turkey air force has more than 200 F 16 block 52 with advance modification developing a 5 gen. fighter and spending hell of money on it makes no sense . Turkey has never developed an combat aircraft and suddenly after seeing PAF making JF 17 got inspired and decided to develop a 5 gen . air craft which is technologically much more complex and not that stable . Turkey has already ordered 100 F 35 jets which will already cost them in billions . In my opinion instead of wasting money in combat jets Turkey should work on developing a sea deterrent ballistic missile from a Submarine or better acquire a surface to air missile system . Which would make there defense more stable

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 6:40 pm 0Likes

    @MT PAF can work on two different variants one is JF 17 block 3 which is expected to come next year the heavier version of JF 17 E with two variants could come in 2020 with a better and a customized engine and more fire power lets see how PAF will manage it with China and Russia .

  • by MT
    Posted December 10, 2015 7:37 pm 0Likes

    Block III is still in design stages. I dont see the production of Block III starting before 2019

  • by saqrkh
    Posted December 10, 2015 8:36 pm 0Likes

    Yep… The principal partner of the TFX is BAE. If the PAF is interested in the TFX, it should basically consider it an off-the-shelf purchase from Britain. Technology will be more restricted and costs will be on the high side, but BAE could lobby the British Govt to offer a financing plan to Pakistan; either way a lot will be in London’s hands in as far as TFX is considered.

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 8:43 pm 0Likes

    In any case PAF to wait for more than a decade to acquire the 5 gen Turkish TFX

  • by saqrkh
    Posted December 10, 2015 8:52 pm 0Likes

    The JF-17 ‘NG’ is basically Block-III onwards, but it is several years away from production. I don’t think we’re far from the prototype, but if it involves as many changes as we are hoping, then 2019 is a reasonable timeframe.

  • by saqrkh
    Posted December 10, 2015 8:53 pm 0Likes

    I don’t think PAF will seriously pursue a next-gen fighter until 2020, if not later.

  • by blabla bla
    Posted December 10, 2015 8:59 pm 0Likes

    TFX will start production in 2030

  • by jigsaww
    Posted December 10, 2015 9:56 pm 0Likes

    I believe JF-17 will evolve more and PAC will not stop here on designing further jets. Only that there will be no more 4th gen designs and also they just might be JV’s with china and turkey to seriously enter aviation industry, not aimed at PAF needs largely (which was the case with JF-17). That means that PAC will design more jets but since the immediate need for PAF will already be filled with around 150 (or more) JF-17s and around 100 F-16s as well as 50 off J-31s, then there will be no immediate need for JF-17 block 4. This is why i think such a design will not be a reality before 2025, though some details/prototypes could emerge around 2019/20, but as a 5th gen fighter, it will need all thorough designing and testing.

  • by Matthys Jacobs
    Posted April 25, 2016 1:58 pm 0Likes

    If one looks at the deals Denel has setup with the UAE and Brazil regarding local production and IP transfer of the Umbani (Al-Tariq in UAE service) and the A-Darter it shows that Denel always managed to give it’s end users some sort of technology transfer which most missile producers such as Israel, the US, EU, Russia and China will not offer unless massive orders or great relations coupled with a massive outlay of funds are produced.

    The Marlin and A-Darter coupled with Denel’s HMD technology and South Africa’s Datalink technology offers Pakistan and the JF-17 a force multiplier that currently does not exist in Pakistan.

    It also allows the JF-17 more munition optionality as opposed to only munitions from China or Russia.

  • by Matthys Jacobs
    Posted April 25, 2016 2:00 pm 0Likes

    MBDA solutions are exceptionally expensive and most countries can not afford integration let alone procuring a handful of their latest generation missiles.

    Personally I would love to see cooperation with pakistan and South Africa but I somehow think that pakistan will not approach South Africa nor Denel. Both countries are struggling economically at the moment and it would be unlikely that Pakistan makes an outright major investment decision regardless of it’s merits in a smaller country like South Africa as opposed to going with a risk adverse option like China or Russia.

  • by Matthys Jacobs
    Posted April 25, 2016 2:06 pm 0Likes

    If one looks at SIPRI and statements released by Denel as it is a state owned entity and governed by South Africa’s Arms Export laws it publishes it’s prices for contracts.

    If one compares the A-Darter Project to the Iris-T project, the A-Darter costs roughly 60% of the cost of the Iris-T and this goes well with Denel’s philosophy to aim at the middle end of the market.

    It strives to offer 80% of the performance of the latest generation Western made missiles for between 45% – 60% of the costs of a Western Made missile.

    Additionally to the Denel sells its products in Rand value although paid for in US Dollars or any other G7 currency thus with the weakening Rand against the US Dollar it lowers the price even further.

    Denel and South Africa is in need for a development partner that has the drive, strategy and funds or reserves (US dollars) that will enable a wide range of product development from various missiles, precision guided munitions, land based systems, new aircrafts such as a Rooivalk 2, a Small Regional Aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, electronic warfare suites etc.

  • by jigsaww
    Posted April 25, 2016 2:59 pm 0Likes

    I think you have a very valid point there.
    We have our fingers crossed.

  • by Matthys Jacobs
    Posted April 26, 2016 6:05 am 0Likes


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