Kentron should know within the next six months if the South African Air Force (SAAF) will proceed to full-scale development of the A-Darter air-to-air missile, the company says.

The SAAF and Kentron have been jointly funding development of the fifth-generation technology demonstrator.

"We foresee that if we go to full-scale development, we will do it with international partners and we are talking to people at the moment," says Japie Bester of Kentron's International Business Development section.

The A-Darter is slated as the successor to the SAAF's current third-generation U-Darter system. Kentron says it decided to skip development of a fourth-generation missile because it believed the performance gap between U-Darter and fourth-generation weapons such as the Israeli Python 4 and Russian AA-11 was too small to warrant the necessary investment.

Bester says the new missile should have a "100% better range" than the U-Darter in a typical frontal aspect engagement.

Among the new missile's planned attributes are a 'lock on after launch' capability, enabling a pilot to use his radar to designate a target beyond infra-red range, download the information to a missile and fire, leaving it to get to the point where its thermal imaging seeker can acquire the approaching enemy.

There is so little information available on competing fifth-generation missiles such as the AIM-9X and BGT IRIS-T that is difficult to compare them, says Bester, "...but I would say we pretty much chose the same spec in terms of agility and seeker performance.

"We've now done all the tests you can do with a captive missile. We're almost ready for guided firings."

The missile will weigh 89kg "...give or take a kilo or two" and is designed to fit on Sidewinder-capable weapons stations.

If development proceeds, A-Darter is planned to enter service around 2002-2004.

The first publicly-seen mock-up of the missile is on display at the show.

Source: Flight Daily News