Missile Technology : South Africa is Decades Ahead of the Rest of Africa.

When it comes to advanced missile technology and rocketry no country in Africa comes close. South Africa has decades of experience developing missile and rocket technology. Besides the obvious big players like the United States, Russia, China and Europe, few countries in the world can match South Africa in the development of missiles.

South Africa had a ballistic missile program, but it dismantled its covert ballistic missile program after it unilaterally dismantled its nuclear weapons program in the early 1990s.


To understand how far advanced the South Africans are in the development and fielding of missiles, let us delve into its ballistic missile and rockets.

At the time of Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain in the 60s South Africa had already developed short-range tactical missiles.

At the end of the Nigerian civil war in the early 1970s and 1980s, South Africa, with help from Israel, began developing a longer range ballistic missile as a possible delivery vehicle for nuclear warheads.

A July 1989 test launch of what South Africa called a ‘booster rocket’ confirmed Pretoria had a ballistic missile program similar to Israel’s Jericho missile series. Now the United Nations wasn’t too pleased about this. The fact that Israel had a hand in South Africa’s nuclear weapons program further enraged the Arab world.

South Africa had dismantled its nuclear weapons program by the early 1990s, and subsequently halted its long-range missile program, and as a sign of good faith became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). In 1991 South Africa joined the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC).

In 1991 South Africa three ballistic missile tests. The missile produced by ARMSCOR (Armaments Corporation of South Africa) flew 900 miles southeast over the Indian Ocean. The South African government’s official statement was that the missiles were booster rockets for a peaceful space program.

South Africa’s large industrial and scientific base proved that South Africa had the technical wherewithal in the production of ballistic missiles.. The possible mission of such a weapon, however, was somewhat of a mystery, as South Africa enjoyed a vast military superiority over its neighbors.

South Africa’s military might has waned over the past two decades due to funding as well manpower issues, and as South Africa is ranked 5th in overall military capability in Africa, after Egypt, Algeria, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

But South Africa’s defense industry has the technological and manpower capabilities to construct medium to long-range ballistic missiles. South Africa’s official commitment to non-proliferation is the only think stopping Mzanzi.


South Africa’s defence industry has a world-renowned reputation for producing guided weapons, from unpowered bombs to surface-to-air missiles and is the only African country that exports its indigenously built missiles around the world.


This South African High Velocity missile programme has a range of 20 kilometres, with a ceiling of 8 000 metres. It reaches speeds of around Mach 2.5. This means once fired the 135 kg missile has a reaction time of 2.5 seconds and half-second intervals between missile launches.

Denel Dynamics is currently working on an extended range version that is rumoured to have a range of 60 kilometres.  In 2016 the Finnish Navy, as part of its modernization program acquired the naval version of the South African Umkhonto naval surface-to-air missile (SAM).

Photo by: MKFI/Public Domain
FNS Tornio, a Hamina-class missile boat of the Finnish Navy

The Finnish Navy already operates the Umkhonto aboard its Hamina fast attack craft and Hameenmaaa class minelayer. The updated version of the Denel Umkhonto SAM is in the frame to meet the air-defence requirement of several Finnish missile boats.


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Now this has to be one of the best air to air missile in the world. The A-Darta incorporates some features of the Kukri heat seeking missiles. The A-Darta is used to arm the South African Air Force’s Gripens and Hawk Mk 120s,

Instead of being controlled by forward mounted wings, the A-Darter is steered by thrust vectoring, giving it exceptional manoeuvrability and allowing it to perform manoeuvres up to 100 g, twice that of the V-3C, for example. Its rocket motor uses smokeless propellant, which results in a small launch flash and almost no smoke trail.

The nearly three metre long, 93 kilogramme missile has a range of approximately 20 kilometres. Its two-colour seeker and decoy rejection software means it is highly resistant to jamming. It features a laser fuse for its warhead and multi-mode counter-countermeasures suite.

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The A-Darter missile may be designated to a target by using the aircraft’s radar, a helmet sighting system or the missile’s own effective autonomous scan feature. The seeker’s large look-angles and the airframe’s agility enable high off-bore sight helmet designated firings. Long-range intercepts beyond IR detection range are also possible with the lock-on after launch capability of the A-Darter.

It can be designated onto a target by the launch aircraft’s radar; through the missile’s seeker head or by a helmet-mounted sight. The helmet mounted sight allows it to engage targets to the side and behind the launch aircraft. In addition, the A-Darter has lock-on after launch capability, allowing for the engagement of targets beyond infrared detection range.


The Marlin is  radar guided air-to-air missile being. Built by Denel Dynamics, the Marlin has a 100 kilometres range.



The Ingwe is considered one of the best anti-tank missile in the world. It was built by…no surprise, Denel Dynamics. The Ingwe is laser beam-riding missile that has a range of 250-5 000 metres. The laser beam system is virtually undetectable and highly resistant to countermeasures. It is available with tandem warhead HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) and MPP (Multi-Purpose Penetrator) warheads.

In its anti-tank form it can penetrate up to 1 000 mm of armour, after a single layer of reactive armour. The MPP warhead is designed for deployment in modern asymmetrical warfare to target lightly armoured vehicles, urban targets, bunkers and fortified positions.

The Ingwe is used by the South African Army tank destroyers. It is the only missile designed for ground vehicles that can also be air launched.

Although it was originally designed for ground vehicles, the Ingwe can also be air launched and has been exported to several countries in this configuration. It is in service on upgraded Algerian Air Force Mi-25 Hind helicopters and apparently aboard Iraqi Airbus Helicopters EC635s.


The standard warhead is a tandem shaped charge explosive able to penetrate 1 350 mm of armour, but various warheads could be fitted, such as fragmentation, as well as various seekers such as millimetre wave radar or imaging infrared.

The Denel Dynamics Mokopa (Black Mamba) anti-tank missile was developed for the Rooivalk attack helicopter. The 50 kilogramme Mokopa has a range of 10 kilometres and homes on a laser pulse provided by the launcher or a separate designator. It can lock on to a target before or after launch and fly different trajectories depending on the target.


Based on the Mokopa and Ingwe, Denel Dynamics has produced the Impi-S missile, designed for light aircraft such as smaller helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles like the Seeker 400. The 15 kilogramme Impi-S is inertial/semi-active laser-guided and has a range of 6 kilometres.


The 1,200 kilogramme weapon is fitted with a 600 kilogramme penetration or fragmentation warhead and has a circular error probability of three metres. Rocket motors gives the weapon a range of 130+ kilometres. The Raptor II has been integrated on the Mirage III, Mirage F1, Mirage V, Cheetah and Sukhoi Su-24 aircraft. 

This South African radar guided missile bears testament to the fact that South Africa is decades ahead of the rest of Africa in the development and fielding of advanced missile systems. The Raptor has several guidance options, such as GPS/INS for fire-and-forget attacks, or low-light TV or infrared, and the target can be changed in flight. As the weapon’s communications pod is mounted on the launch aircraft or on a second aircraft, the weapon can be controlled from up to 200 kilometres away.


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