South Africa and Brazil ratified an agreement in late July to proceed with the development of a new air-to-air missile, understood to be an evolution of Denel Aerospace Systems’ A-Darter within-visual-range design.

Details of the agreement come as Brazil, India and South Africa engage in high-level talks about options for trilateral missile development programmes, including beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) and long-range air-to-surface weapons, on the back of strengthening political ties.

South African state armaments agency Armscor says that while developing the nation’s missile capabilities remains an important strategic priority, the country continues to face financial pressures that limit its development options. “[Missiles are] an area where we have got a problem: it is so difficult to sustain and do it on your own,” says Armscor chief executive Sipho Thomo.

Trilateral links with Brazil and India are evolving into a “block of countries where we tend now to do the funding of missile development and other things”, Thomo says. “We are beginning to do them together, because we cannot afford on our own the cost of those developments.”

Thomo confirms that he signed a co-operation agreement with Brazil in late July, but declines to identify the design involved. “There is a project that we are pushing with Brazil for missile development,” he says, adding: “It is an air-to-air missile.”

Brazil is understood to have committed funding worth $52 million to the project. Details of the South African backing remain unknown, although well-placed sources say that in addition to direct allocations from the Department of Defence and South African National Defence Force, money is also coming from the nation’s Department of Trade and Industry.

Any trilateral effort could have a direct impact on South African Air Force plans to introduce a BVRAAM weapon into operational service on its Gripen International Gripen fighters in the 2012-15 timeframe. An acquisition process for a new missile is scheduled to start in 2010.

The air force is now conducting in-country development activities using its first of 28 Gripens.

Source: Flight International