|Place of origin||South Africa
|Weight||89 kilograms (196 lb)|
|Length||2.98 metres (117 in)|
|Diameter||0.166 metres (6.5 in)|
|Wingspan||0.488 metres (19.2 in)|
|20 kilometres (12 mi)|
|dual-colour Infra-red homing, laser proximity fuse|
The A-Darter (Agile-Darter) also named V3E is a modern short-range infrared homing ("heat seeking") air-to-air missile, featuring countermeasures resistance with a 180-degree look angle and 120-degrees per second track rate, under development by South Africa's Denel Dynamics (formerly Kentron) and Brazil's Mectron, Avibras and Opto Eletrônica. It will equip South African Air Force's JAS 39 Gripen and Hawk 120; Brazilian Air Force's A-1M AMX, F-5BR and JAS 39 Gripen. It is expected to be operational in both Air Forces by 2014 and it will also be available for export.
Development of the A-Darter started in 1995, however it suffered from inadequate funding and changes to the SAAF's requirements. Mectron, Avibras and Atech joined the program in 2006 after a three-year negotiation process with US$52 million invested by the Brazilian Government in the project, estimated to be worth US$130 million. In that same year, Denel announced that it would use the latest solid-state inertial measurement unit, the SiIMU02 from BAE Systems, for mid course range guidance. The Brazilian company Opto Eletrônica has partnered with Denel Dynamics in the development of the missile imaging infrared seeker for thermal guidance.
Ground seeker tests were concluded in January 2010, while trajectory guidance and agility flight tests were performed in February 2010. Prototypes were sent to Saab AB in order to begin the integration of the missile to the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. Captive flight trials were concluded in March 2010. The first successful in-flight launch from a Gripen fighter took place on 17 June 2010.
In March 2012, Denel Dynamics disclosed that the missile, which will be ready for production by end of 2013, has entered the qualification phase. Several testing firings at Denel's Overberg Test Range were carried out from a Gripen in January 2012. Final testing included the use of high-speed target drones to simulate an aircraft by towing infrared targets at high speed.
The missile seeker can be slaved to the Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), allowing the pilot to track a target beyond the aircraft's radar scan envelope using the missile's high off-boresight capability, achieved by the pilot turning his head towards the target to lock-on, better known as “look and shoot”. The missile can then be launched and can immediately pull extreme g-force to reverse its course in order to engage a target behind the aircraft, sometimes called an "over-the-shoulder". Engage modes include Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) capability to engage targets outside its seeker's acquisition range, and Lock-On Before Launch (LOBL) capability where the target is identified and designated before launch. The two colour thermal imaging technology and a laser proximity fuse fitted on the missile provide multiple Electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) techniques with targeting algorithms including advanced spatial filtering techniques and velocity profiling.
The A-Darter has four major sections: guidance section, warhead, control, and rocket motor. It uses a streamlined design with low aerodynamic drag in a wingless airframe, ensuring ranges beyond those of traditional short-range missiles. It is fitted with a thrust vectoring control (TVC) system to provide agility up to 100 times the force of gravity (100G), which makes small corrections by slightly gimballing the main motor to slew the missile, by placing deflective surfaces called vanes within the rocket exhaust.
The absence of aluminium powder from the motor propellent inhibits production of a smoke trail, which means no visual warning for enemy aircraft. According to SAAF fighter pilots involved within the project, the A-Darter it is better than the IRIS-T in some respects.
- Similar missiles
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- Denel Dynamics - official website
- A-darter air-to-air missile - official brochure
- Mectron (Brazilian partner's website - in Portuguese)