South Africa Orders IRIS-T Missiles
IRIS-T (InfraRed Imaging System – Tail/thrust vector controlled) emerged after Germany pulled out of the joint US-UK-German ASRAAM program, following testing with its “new” East German MiG-29s and their AA-11/R-73 Archer SRAAMs. The Germans came to believe that ASRAAM’s entire philosophy was wrong, and sought to develop their own missile based on the A-11’s lessons. IRIS-T is now being developed by a multinational European consortium, whose in-house orders include Germany (1,250: Eurofighter and Tornado), Denmark (500, F-16s), Greece (350, F-16s), Italy (450, Eurofighter and Tornado), Netherlands (500, F-16s), and Spain (700, Eurofighter and F/A-18 Hornet). Consortium members Sweden and Norway are also expected to order IRIS-T; Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen serves as the missile’s test platform, and there is also talk of integrating the missile with the F-35 Lightning II.
Now, South Africa becomes the missile’s 2nd export customer, after Austria ordered 25 at the end of 2005 to equip its Eurofighters. On May 28/08, Diehl BGT announced that the South African Air Force has picked the IRIS-T short range air-to-air missile to equip their Gripen fighter aircraft “as an interim solution until the local missile development – the A Darter – will be operational.”
The IRIS-T missiles will become operational on SAAF Gripens in 2009, and a recent Engineering News article confirms that there will be local defense industry workshare requirements attached to the buy. This makes for some interesting dynamics, given that A-Darter is being developed as an IRIS-T competitor. Details regarding these offsets may be released at the Africa Aerospace and Defence 2008 in Cape Town, from September 17 – 21.