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Pakistan’s Opportunity to Develop Munitions with South Africa

In March 2017, Pakistan and South Africa signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) to facilitate the “acquisition of defence equipment as well as cooperation in Research and Development (R&D), Transfer of Technology, Co-production/Joint Ventures in public as well as private sector.”[1] On the surface, the MoU was geared towards enabling South Africa to secure a stable, long-term source of revenue and, in turn, to provide Pakistan a means to affordably acquire – and domestically develop – defence technology.

In fact, defence collaboration between Pakistan and South Africa dates back to the mid-to-late 1990s, i.e. when the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) worked with Kentron to secure the H-2 and H-4-series of guided stand-off weapons (SOW) and, according to many reports, the Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile (ALCM).

However, despite the apparent potential synergy between Denel Group’s offerings – especially those of Denel Dynamics – and the Pakistani armed forces’ munition needs, Pakistan has not availed the renewed opportunity, especially one endorsed by Cape Town itself.

Background: South Africa-Pakistani Defence Cooperation

Arguably, the peak of bilateral defence collaboration between Pakistan and South Africa had occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, the PAF announced that it test-fired the H-2 and H-4, a series of air-to-surface glide bombs with ranges of 60 km and 120 km, respectively.[2] Given these specifications, it appears that the H-2 and H-4 are locally-built variants of Denel’s Raptor I and Raptor II.

In 1999, Denel had even offered the PAF a complete suite of air-to-air munitions for use from the Super-7 – i.e. the JF-17 Thunder. The package had included the A-Darter high off-boresight air-to-air missile (HOBSAAM) and T-Darter active radar-homing (ARH) beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).[3]

In response, then PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi stated, “We would also like to develop something ourselves in collaboration with others.”[4] ACM Qureshi’s statement implied that the PAF was willing to domestically develop and produce its own munitions for the JF-17.

In 2007, the PAF test-fired the Ra’ad ALCM. The Ra’ad was intended as the mainstay to the PAF’s strategic or nuclear delivery capabilities, offering a range of 350 km.[5] It is widely believed that the Ra’ad was derived from Denel’s prior ALCM work, namely the MUPSOW (Multi-Purpose Stand-Off Weapon) platform.[6]

Overall, working with South Africa enabled the PAF to significantly improve its long-range strike capability, and that too through the Mirage III/5. Through SOW and ALCM, the latter has emerged as a credible asset and offensive threat, one with potentially strategic ramifications (i.e. nuclear).

However, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, defence cooperation between Pakistan and South Africa had waned. Firstly, the South African defence industry prioritized the larger Indian market and, as a result, it essentially withdrew from potential Pakistani bids. Secondly, Pakistan’s defence requirements were being met by the Chinese, who leverage scale and credit to competitively price their goods.

Granted, Pakistan’s decision to draw on China is rational (e.g. China’s scale and fiscal capacity enable it to develop and manufacture big-ticket items affordably, Pakistan cannot match it in all domains). However, in quantitatively-heavy domains – such as munitions – domestic production is rational; not only can one scale it, but in the long-term, it would be more affordable to sustain than solely importing.

The Constraints of Imported Munitions

On the surface, one can broadly agree that domestic solutions can guarantee control over one’s weapon systems and security from the affects of sanctions. However, there are many nuances – be it scale, access to critical technology inputs and one’s own fiscal capacity – that relegate the value of domestic work as a case-by-case factor. In terms of munitions, there is a case to be made for Pakistan to indigenize its inputs.


In assessing its active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar options for the JF-17 Block-III, the PAF was not able to seriously consider Leonardo’s AESA radar options because neither Leonardo or AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China) were likely to share their respective source-codes to enable integration. [7]

It is an important issue because the JF-17 Block-I and Block-II’s SD-10 BVRAAM and C-802 anti-ship cruising missile (ASCM) are imported from China. In other words, if the Block-III were to use a non-Chinese AESA radar, the PAF would not be able to reutilize its existing-stock of Chinese munitions.

In of itself, this is not an issue. However, in the context of what should be a domestic fighter platform – where external controls do not dictate how the PAF can equip or use the aircraft – this is untenable.


Given its potential strategic value, Pakistan is unlikely to have any feasible foreign ALCM options. Be it due to cost or availability, the MBDA SCALP or KEPD 350 are implausible, which made the Ra’ad a necessity.


Suppliers control the pricing. For Pakistan, there are two options in terms of off-the-shelf procurement:

First, to buy a large number upfront so as to help the supplier maintain economies-of-scale and offer a competitive price. However, this comes at the risk of maintaining a large stock that will grow obsolete as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) introduces new versions. For example, Pakistan bought 500 AIM-120C5s with its F-16s in 2007, but today, Raytheon produces the AIM-120D.

Second, buying on an incremental basis (to match with new versions as they become available) poses the risk of maintaining too few munitions for operational needs in time of conflict. Granted, relying on a large supplier like China could curtail this issue, but one evidently loses control (as described above).

However, in situations where desirable solutions are in the West – e.g. advanced air defence systems – the cost of acquiring them in sufficient numbers is simply infeasible. In turn, Pakistan cannot access those capabilities until China develops and offers an analogous solution.


In some cases, one could require specially tailored munitions for optimal use. For example, if the PAF is to use Project Azm for offensive strike purposes, it could require an ALCM that is compact enough for Azm’s internal bay (assuming, as a next-generation fighter, it includes one) while retaining necessary range and payload characteristics. Besides restrictive factors, such as lack of availability, importing a solution of this nature would require paying the OEM with non-recurring engineering (NRE) fees.

How South Africa Helps

Based on the MoU signed in 2017, South Africa is willing to jointly develop and produce defence systems – including munitions – with Pakistan. Today, South Africa’s Denel Group has the following programs that are currently active: A-Darter, Umkhonto, Marlin and Cheetah. The former two are in serial production.


The A-Darter is a 5th-generation HOBS AAM designed to work in conjunction with a helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system (analogous to the AIM-9X and IRIS-T). According to Denel Group’s Financial Report for 2016, the total cost of developing the A-Darter was ZAR 2 billion, i.e. $151 million US based on today’s exchange rate.[8] The cost of producing the A-Darter for the South African Air Force (SAAF) was set at $70 million US, though it is not publicly known how many A-Darters the SAAF is procuring.[9]

Interestingly, at the 2015 Paris Air Show, then Chief Project Director of the JF-17 – Air Vice Marshal Arshad Malik – stated that the A-Darter would feature in the JF-17 Block-III.[10] However, it is unclear if the PAF will still commit to the A-Darter or if it has opted for the comparable Chinese PL-10 instead.

Umkhonto SAM

The Umkhonto IR is a short-to-medium range surface-to-air missile (SAM) with a range of 20 km. It uses a terminal imaging infrared (IIR) seeker paired to an inertial navigation system (INS) fed, via data-link, from a ground-based radar. Algeria had paid $60-70 m US to configure its two MEKO A-200AN frigates with the Umkhonto IR. Each MEKO A-200AN required 32 vertical launch system (VLS) cells, a fire control system (FCS), integration work and testing.[11] The $30-35 m per ship cost is all-inclusive.[12]

The Umkhonto IR can be deployed from land as well. In this configuration, it relies on an 8×8 truck for its eight-cell VLS system as well as another vehicle for command-and-control (C2) and radar. Its approach is similar to that of the Israeli SPYDER in that it only requires one radar (for detection and guidance).

Denel had developed an upgraded version, i.e. Umkhonto EIR, with a reported range of 35 km.[13]

According to Denel, the goal behind the EIR was to develop “new generation motors and other technology” that will be used in future projects, i.e. an 80-100 km range AAM and 60 km range SAM.[14]

Marlin BVRAAM & Umkhonto ER SAM

The 80-100 km BVRAAM and 60 km SAM projects fall under the Marlin. Denel had intended the Marlin to be a standard platform built on common dual-pulse motor rockets (DPMR) and electronics (e.g. seeker).[15]

In fact, despite operating on a relatively light development budget, the Marlin has proceeded through a range of tests through 2016.[16] According to Denel Dynamics’ chief systems engineer, Ivan Gibbons, these tests include ground-based firing to test the new DPMR as well as maneuverability and flight parameters.[17]

The Marlin platform reportedly has a top speed of roughly Mach 4 and is steadily proceeding to its first air-to-air test from onboard the SAAF’s JAS-39C/D Gripen.[18] The 60 km Umkhonto ER SAM will utilize the Marlin DPMR and electronics platform, thus providing end-users a common BVRAAM and SAM platform, i.e. providing both simplified logistics and a streamlined production back-end.

Cheetah C-RAM

The Cheetah is a counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) system. Of Denel’s programs, the Cheetah C-RAM is in the earliest stages of development. Denel Dynamics is collaborating with Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) to develop the short-range air defence (SHORAD) system.[19]

The Cheetah is meant to defend areas against low-flying helicopters, drones, air-to-surface munitions and cruise missiles, including supersonic-cruising missiles.[20] It will have a velocity of Mach 3+ and a maximum engagement range of 10,000 m. It uses a terminal-stage ARH seeker, though it can also rely on mid-course guidance from a surface-based air surveillance and target acquisition radar.[21]

The idea is for the Cheetah C-RAM to work in close conjunction with the Umkhonto. Four Cheetah SAMs can be quad-packed into a single Umkhonto VLS cell, enabling air defence forces to have combined short-and-medium-range capabilities (which, if the Marlin/Umkhonto ER materializes, could reach 60 km) from one combined system.[22] The Cheetah can also be fit onto ships that are not equipped for in-hull VLS (e.g. the MILGEM Ada)[23]; its VLS suite would simply take the place of the Rolling Airframe Missile.

Combined, the Cheetah (10 km) and Umkhonto ER (60 km) could result in system similar in concept to the Indian-Israeli Barak-8, including the latter’s variants, e.g. the MRSAM. The idea is that the end-user would have a rapidly-deployable, mobile layered air defence system which it can use to accompany its forward-deployed forces (e.g. artillery, armour, temporary air fields, etc). It can also deploy a variant at sea.

Granted, Pakistan does have the HQ-16-based LY-80, which – while not as efficient (as it relies on multiple radar systems) – can accomplish a similar objective. However, the aforementioned constraints still apply, which could make widespread deployment less tenable compared to a domestically-produced suite.

Yes, there is a cost to development and raising domestic turnkey manufacturing facilities, but that can be scaled across a significant number of units. For example, the Marlin and Umkhonto ER – i.e. which would use the same propulsion and electronics – would apply to each of the PAF’s combat aircraft, land-based air defence systems belonging to the Air Force and Army and the Navy’s surface warships.

If a joint-venture is done with the aim of building Pakistan’s research and development capacity, namely in core areas such as propulsion and electronics design, South Africa and Pakistan could look to further develop the Cheetah and Marlin platforms, perhaps along analogous lines as the Indo-Israeli Barak, i.e. to expand as a long-range SAM platform (which is likely to be more affordable than most imported options).


Despite the apparent benefits, there are structural challenges on both sides. In Pakistan, the drive to have domestic solutions (in lieu of imported alternatives) is not strong.

Granted, while pursuing ‘mature’ and ‘tested’ solutions is a valid course, it is not as though Pakistan is procuring the most ‘tried-and-true’ goods available on the market. Rather, it is apparent that Pakistan has long relied-upon newer suppliers – be it China or, increasingly, Turkey – as a means to acquire current technology. However, this is a far cry from its earlier efforts to procure mature US or Western European solutions (both of which are unavailable now due to a combination of cost or market restrictions).

Denel is beset with its own structural problems, most notably a liquidity crisis and severe lack of efficiency wherein 80% of its costs reportedly go into employees.[24] That is a major risk for any investor, especially a country such as Pakistan which would have to make significant trade-offs in order to consider the Denel route (however promising the technology may be). Thus, risk could be a major deterrent for Pakistan.

Following China, Turkey has risen into becoming Pakistan’s second-leading arms supplier. Given that the Turks are pursuing many comparable programs, such as the Hisar-series of SAM, Pakistan could view it as a more appropriate partner. However, it would be costlier to work with the Turks due to the lesser parity in their respective currencies (compared to that of South Africa) and the fact that Western technological inputs (which must be bought in dollars, pounds or euros) are also involved.

However, could Denel’s problems be as much of a leverage as an opportunity? If the company’s long-term existence is tied to serving the Pakistani market, could Pakistan not use that fact as a means to yield major concessions in terms of transfer-of-technology and capacity-building to Pakistan? Ultimately, risk can be best understood through an audit. For Pakistan, the reward would be to build the foundation to ultimately secure every tactical munition type (be it AAM, SAM, ALCM, etc) domestically, thus enhancing its posture for conventional deterrence and creating a new method of channeling expenditure through local work.

[1] Joy Nonzukiso Peter. “A memorandum of understanding on Defence and Defence Industrial Cooperation with Pakistan.” Department of Defence. Government of South Africa. March 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 26 June 2018).

[2] Arshad Sharif. “PAF adds new bombs to its arsenal.” Dawn News. 18 December 2003. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[3] “Denel offers Pakistan missile deal.” Flight International. 24 February 1999. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Pakistan tests new cruise missile.” Al Jazeera English. 25 August 2007. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[6] Chris Pocock. “Pakistan Launches Indigenous ALCM Again.” AIN Online. 08 June 2012. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

[7] Alan Warnes. “Two-seat JF-17B progresses.” Air Forces Monthly. April 2017.

[8] “Denel Group Integrated Report: 2015-2016.” Denel Group. p.137. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 July 2018).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Alan Warnes. “JF-17 Thunder: Pakistan’s multi-role fighter.” 2015. Note: a special publication released by the Pakistan Air Force during the Paris Air Show of 2015.

[11] “Denel Group Integrated Report: 2016-2017.” Denel Group. p.117. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 July 2018).

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Denel going big at IDEX.” Defence Web31 January 2017. Accessed: 13 September 2017: http://www.defence

[14] “Denel Dynamics upgrading missile range.” Denel Dynamics. 26 June 2014. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 July 2018).

[15] Guy Martin. “Marlin missile making swift progress.” DefenceWeb. 13 October 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 July 2018).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Chris Szabo. “Denel Dynamics unveils Cheetah C-RAM system.” DefenceWeb. 21 September 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 July 2018).

[20] Helmoed-Römer Heitman. “Denel Dynamics unveils layered C-RAM system.” IHS Jane’s Missiles & Rockets. 20 June 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 28 July 2018).

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Linda Ensor. “Denel’s pool of possible funders is drying up dramatically.” Business Live. 06 February 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 21 July 2018).

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