A South African Air Force Saab Gripen D fighter is expected to perform the first live firing of an A-Darter short-range air-to-air missile later this month, advancing a joint project with Brazilian industry.

Launched in April 2007 under a 66-month development and production programme co-funded by the Brazilian and South African air forces, the A-Darter is intended to arm the services' respective Northrop F-5EM/FM and future F-X2 fighters, and Gripen and BAE Systems Hawk 120 aircraft.

Worth $130 million, the project involves Denel Dynamics and a group of Brazilian companies headed by Mectron. Production activities should start in 2013, with Brazil's air force expecting the missile to enter service the following year.

Launch trials with the new weapon are scheduled to take place at South Africa's Overberg test range. Ground seeker tests concluded in January and captive carriage flight trials were completed in March, following the delivery of a first test missile to Saab in Sweden last September.

 Gripens South Africa - Gripen International
© Frans Dely/Gripen International

Nearly 50 Brazilian civilian and military engineers are supporting development work in South Africa, and Avibras and Mectron sources have pinned high hopes on the A-Darter's export potential.

Sources indicate an initial 100-200 units could be sold to international users, and Pakistan is viewed as a possible buyer. Mectron delivered its first MAA-1A Piranha-1 air-to-air missiles to the nation last month, and Islamabad has also signed a letter of intent to purchase B-version Piranha-2s.

Source: Flight International