Umkhonto (missile)

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Umkhonto 2.JPG
Umkhonto-R, Umkhonto-IR and Umkhonto-CLOS missiles
TypeSurface-to-air missile
Place of originSouth Africa
Service history
Used bySouth Africa, Finland
Production history
ManufacturerDenel Dynamics
Weight130 kg (290 lb)[1]
Length3.32 m (10.9 ft)[1]
Diameter180 mm (7.1 in)[1]
Warhead23 kg (51 lb)[1]

Wingspan500 mm (20 in)[1]
20 km (12 mi)(Umkhonto-IR)
30 km (19 mi) (Umkhonto-ER-IR)
60 km (37 mi)(Umkhonto-R)[2]
Flight altitude8 km (5.0 mi)(Umkhonto-IR)
12 km (7.5 mi) (Umkhonto-ER-IR)
15 km (9.3 mi)(Umkhonto-R)
SpeedMach 2[1]
All-aspect infra-red, command update fire and forget
Naval Vertical launch system, Ground-based Launcher System

The Umkhonto (Zulu: spear) is a South African family of modern short- to medium-range, all-weather-capable vertical launch (VLS) surface-to-air missiles (SAM) manufactured by South Africa's Denel Dynamics (formerly known as Kentron). The missile and associated subsystems are supplied as a missile group for easy integration into naval combat suites or ground-based air defence systems.

Umkhonto has been designed to counter a wide variety of airborne threats, such as: multiple combat aircraft (fixed-wing or helicopter), anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles, UAVs and drones as well as supersonic cruise missiles. When coupled with a modern air-defence system and multi-function surveillance track and guidance radars, the Umkhonto missile system has the capability to simultaneously engage multiple targets during saturation attacks.

Umkhonto is available in three variants, a short-range infrared homing (Umkhonto-IR), a medium-range infrared homing (Umkhonto-ER-IR) and a beyond-visual-range radar homing version (Umkhonto-R).


Development of the system began in 1993, after the failure to introduce into service and market the ZA-HVM short-range SAM (together with ZA-35). The first Ground-based system tests were completed in July 2005 and the system was judged to be shore-qualified. The tests included using Denel Dynamics Skua subsonic target drones equipped with telemetry sensors. Test flights flew different trajectory profiles, including low-flying, walking and exercising collision course evasive action.[3]

An Umkhonto-IR Missile being launched from a South African Valour-class frigate

The first successful launch from a ship was carried out on board the South Africa Navy Valour-class frigate SAS Amatola on 23 November 2005. The missile was launched at a Denel Skua subsonic target drone near Cape Agulhas. Test launches were repeated a week later. Instead of a warhead, missiles were equipped with telemetry data transmission units. According to the telemetry, both tests were assessed as hits.


Umkhonto-IR Block 1[edit]

Designed for all-round defence against simultaneous air attacks from multiple targets, the Umkhonto-IR missile is the first vertically launched infrared-homing surface-to-air missile, also the first IR-homing missile to use lock-on-after-launch. Upon launch, the missile flies to a lock-on point, following on-board inertial navigation. The missile then activates its two-colour IR-seeker (variant of U-Darter AAM's seeker) and locks on. Target updates are received via data link, enabling the missile to counter evasive manoeuvres by the target.

The Umkhonto has a set of tail-mounted, aerodynamic control fins, as well as thrust vectoring vanes in the motor nozzle (similar to Denel's A-Darter AAM), allowing for 40 g manoeuvring. The system's 3-D fire-control radar enables simultaneous engagement of eight targets for the naval version. The missile uses a low-smoke propellant to avoid detection. In July 2005 it was successfully tested in various scenarios against a Denel made Skua drones.

The sealed container has a cylindrical pad shape. During start-reactive gases are reflected from the bottom of the container and go straight up between the walls of the container and the body of the rocket. After starting the container used to recharge removed and replaced with a loaded container. Reloading the launcher is made either on the basis of, or in a calm sea using an auxiliary vessel. High reliability is achieved through the built-in self-test hardware that provides the minimum cost of maintenance staff.

The system consists of modules starting with missiles in launch canisters, control panel, system controller (control computer and control system interface shooting), the startup sequence controllers (one for every four missiles), transmitter remote control, antenna station and the cooling system of the infrared sensor before starting.

Umkhonto-IR Block 2[edit]

This variant of the IR Umkhonto was recently developed in collaboration with the Finnish Navy. It has a more advanced seeker-head algorithm for differentiating between the target and background clutter often found in and around the Baltic archipelago. Because of the improvement in the seeker head, the newer version has a more efficient flight path, allowing for an increase in range of 3 km (1.9 mi); a new maximum range of 15 km (9.3 mi). Its current flight ceiling is 8 km (5.0 mi).

Denel Dynamics has stated its intention to end production of the Block 1 missile and continue with the production of the Block 2 version of the missile, as part of the missile's overall growth path.

An extended range version of the Block 2 variant of the Umkhonto-IR was test fired in October 2013. During the demonstration, three missiles successfully destroyed low-cost aerial target systems (LOCATS – provided by the South African Army), two at 15 km range and one at 20 km. The targets were launched from the Denel Overberg Test Range and flew out to sea before turning inshore on an elliptical track. The successful ground-based firing tests proved that the range of the Umkhonto can be extended to 20 km while the physical dimensions of the missile remain unchanged. The test was also part of the development of a mobile ground-based system for the South African Army.[4]

Umkhonto Ground-based Launcher System[edit]

A truck mounted Umkhonto Ground-based Launcher System, along with a Reutech RSR 320/DBR XL dual band 3D radar

The tests conducted in 2013 at the Denel Overberg Test Range were carried out primarily to test an extended range version of the Umkhonto Block 2 missile, but it also served as an opportunity to test the capability of the Denel Umkhonto Ground-based Launcher (GBL). This system is being developed to provide the South African Army with a short- to medium-range air defence system, able to target high-speed aerial threats as part of the army's Ground-Based Air Defence System Phase II project (GBADS II).

The Umkhonto Ground-based Launcher (GBL) is a versatile, compact and mobile surface-to-air missile vertical launching system (VLS) that provides 360° defence against simultaneous air attacks from missiles and aircraft. The land-based launcher concept is similar to the naval application. It operates autonomously for extended periods with a relatively low replenishment requirement. It is specifically designed to launch the Umkhonto range of missiles using the designated homing principle.

The GBL is supplied as a stand-alone effector system for easy integration into larger ground-based and naval air defence systems and can also be deployed as a vehicle-mounted system. It is transportable by land, sea and air (airlift by transport aircraft or helicopters). The system's design allows rapid encampment/decampment due to its highly mobile and autonomous capabilities.

The launcher is deployed either on a vehicle or as a standalone system, and is connected to a Command and Control centre via radio, hard-wired or fibre-optic links. It features 8 reloadable launch tubes that allows rapid reloading of the system. The system does not require a line-of-sight with a target due to its use of a Vertical Launch System.[5]


Denel Dynamics is currently developing an extended range Umkhonto-IR variant with a range exceeding 20 km (12 mi) with a larger motor that extends the range to over 30 km (19 mi).


Further extended range versions (Umkhonto-R) are in development. They will feature a rocket booster and Radar seekers.[6][7]

The radar-guided version's range is extended to over 60 km (37 mi) and has a higher operational ceiling of over 15,000 m (49,000 ft). It is also 65 kg (143 lb) heavier and 98 cm (39 in) longer than the Umkhonto-IR variant. Denel Dynamics is currently in negotiations with the Brazilian Navy for joint development of the missile.

Current users[edit]

A South African Navy Valour-class frigate with 32 Vertical Launch cells containing Umkhonto IR Block 2 missiles
 South Africa
  • Algerian National Navy: The Umkhonto has been selected by Algeria for use on its Meko A-200 Frigates. 32x VLS for Denel Umkhonto-IR surface-to-air missiles will equip the two MEKO 200 frigates.[4][8][9] The Algerian Navy ordered two Meko A-200 frigates from Germany, which are to be equipped with Umkhonto-IR Block 2 missiles. These ships are the same type as the South African Navy's Valour class frigates.[10] In 2012 Algeria also ordered 100 Umkhonto-IR surface-to-air missiles for the frigates, according to SIPRI.[4][11]

Future users[edit]

 South Africa
  • South African Army: The South African Army intends to use the Land Based Umkhonto for its Short and Medium Ranged Air Defence requirements.

Failed bids[edit]

  • Swedish Navy: The Swedish government has expressed interest in the Umkhonto-IR Block 2 system for five Visby class corvettes for at total cost of about 1 bn SEK.[12] Due to budgetary constraints a decision was taken in 2008 to delete the SAM requirement.
  • Indonesian Navy: The Indonesian government were interested in the Umkhonto-IR Block 2 system for the SIGMA class Corvette. But The MICA vertical launch air defence missile was chosen instead.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Umkhonto-IR Surface-to-air Missile System" (PDF). Graphic Art Services (on behalf of Denel Dynamics). September 2008. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  2. ^ Guy Martin. "Denel successfully fires land-based Umkhonto surface-to-air missile".
  3. ^ Slindo Mbuyisa. "Further money for GBADS 2".
  4. ^ a b c "Denel successfully fires land-based Umkhonto surface-to-air missile". DefenceWeb. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Umkhonto GBL – Denel Dynamics".
  6. ^ Kolver, Leandi (22 January 2010). "Brazil still pondering second joint missile project with SA". Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Denel Tests Extended-Range Umkhonto Surface to Air Missile". 11 October 2013.
  8. ^ "SeaNews Turkey – Algeria: Purchase of Two Frigates Confirmed". 5 April 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Algerian Navy signs deal with ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems for 2+2 Meko A200 Frigates: Details". 25 July 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  10. ^ "German built MEKO A-200 AN Frigate for Algerian Navy launched by TKMS in Kiel". Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  11. ^ "More details on South African arms exports for 2014". defenceWeb.
  12. ^ "Visby class corvettes to be equiped [sic] with South African Missiles".

External links[edit]