THE FIRST FIRM evidence that the South African Air Force (SAAF) has acquired the Israeli Rafael Python 3 short-range infra-red air-to-air missile (AAM) has emerged in photographs of an air force Dassault Mirage F-1C.

The Python missile chassis may also form the basis of an active-radar-guided beyond-visual-range missile programme, the R-Darter, which is now being pursued by the SAAF.

The SAAF is thought to field the Python 3 on its Mirage F-1Cs and the Atlas Cheetah. Two Python 3s are clearly visible on wing stations of a SAAF F-1, with the Kentron Darter infra-red (IR)- guided AAM mounted on each wingtip station.

The SAAF's Darter active-radar-guided AAM, is being developed by Kentron, probably in collaboration with the Israeli company, in the initial stages.

Israeli sources have previously confirmed that an active-radar programme was being pursued in collaboration with South Africa, although they say that this project has now ended.

Like Israel, South Africa has previously been blocked from openly acquiring active-guidance technology, forcing it either to procure such a capability covertly or to develop it indigenously.

The R-Darter has a 160mm-diameter missile body, the same as that of the Rafael Python family. The exact development status of the R-Darter project remains unclear, although some South African sources describe it as being in the late stages of development.

Beyond the R-Darter, which is being developed to meet a particular SAAF requirement, Kentron is also working on its Long Range Anti-Aircraft Missile, a rocket/ramjet missile design intended to be fitted with an imaging IR seeker.

Source: Flight International