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Mokopa

Anti-tank guided missile

Mokopa ATGM

The Mokopa is one of the most powerful anti-tank missiles in the world

 
 
Country of origin South africa
Entered service 2005
Armor penetration 1 350 mm RHAe after ERA
Range 10 km
Weight 49.8 kg
Missile length 2 m
Missile diameter 0.18 m
Fin span ?
Warhead HEAT, HE-FRAG, or Thermobaric
Warhead weight ?
Guidance Semi-active laser, infrared homing, or active radar

 

   At the time of its first live-fire tests, the Denel Mokopa had the longest range, highest speed, and greatest armor penetration of any helicopter-launched Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) ever built. It is named after the Setswana term for the Black Mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world --- an appropriate name, if Denel's sales brochures are to be believed. The Mokopa has also been referred-to as the ZT-6, though its commercial name has prevailed over its designation number.

   The origins of this missile are rooted on the South African Defence Force's requirement for an indigenously-built attack helicopter, which resulted in the AH-2 Rooivalk. They also wanted an improved ATGM for this helicopter, to combat any foreseeable future armored threat, and the recently fielded ZT-3 Ingwe was seen as a stopgap until a much more powerful missile could be acquired for helicopter use. The South African government had initially been hoped following the termination of the Apartheid policy that they could import the AGM-114 Hellfire from the US for use on the Rooivalk, but as the US continued to observe an arms embargo on South Africa well into the 1990s, this weapon was at the time almost impossible to import (though if the development of the Ingwe was any indication, South Africa might have been able to steal the Hellfire). This prompted the SADF (later, the South African National Defense Force, or SANDF) to seek an indigenous solution from South African industry instead.

   It is unclear exactly when development of the Mokopa was initiated; it is noted by Army Guide that carriage and release trials on the Rooivalk took place in September of 1995, though most sources place the beginning of full-scale development in November of 1996. All key subsystems were developed by early 1998, with the first launches from the Rooivalk taking place in 1999. The first guided launch of the Mokopa took place in December of 2000, after which Denel announced that two consecutive direct hits were achieved (though the total number of missiles launched was not stated). The development of the Mokopa was finally deemed complete in 2004, and the first deliveries were made to the South African Air Force (SAAF) in 2005.

   The Mokopa is long, cylindrical, and relatively narrow, with a long and finely-tapered nose cone that ends in a small, dome-like seeker window. It is steered by a four small, short, trapezoid-shaped tailfins in a 90-degree crucifix pattern. Early mock-ups of the Mokopa had four tiny, cropped delta-shaped forward fins (giving them an appearance similar to that of the ubiquitous Hellfire), while later developmental missiles appear to have had a shallower leading edge on their tailfins.

   The composition of the Mokopa has not been published, though it clearly has a glass (or glass-like) sensor window on the nose, and appears to have a metallic fuselage and fins.

   Three types of guidance are offered for the Mokopa; semi-active laser, infrared, and active radar. All three can lock-up the target before being launched (called "Lock-On Before Launch", or LOBL), or lock-onto the target after being launched (called "Lock-On After Launch", or LOAL).

   The semi-active laser guidance system operates on the same principles as in most other weapons employing it, in that the missile is guided into a target painted with a laser spot via a sensor window in the nose. This type of guidance is well known for extreme accuracy, even at great distances, and whomever is aiming the laser designator can mark virtually anything as a target. It also has the advantage of allowing the Mokopa to be employed in "ripple fire" tactics, in which groups of targets are engaged simultaneously using multiple successive missile launches; as the first missile reaches its target, the second is lased until the second missile reaches it, and so on, allowing a single launch platform to rapidly destroy multiple targets. Laser guidance also has its drawbacks, however, notably the tendency of the beam to be blurred or blocked by smoke, dust, fog, clouds, and so on, and the increasing proliferation of anti-laser countermeasures and laser detection systems.

   Infrared guidance allows the Mokopa to home-in on a vehicle's heat emissions, which can include exhaust, engine heat, friction and torsion of the suspension, and surface heating from sunlight. This guidance is completely passive, emitting no energy to tip-off the target to the attack, and potentially allows the launch platform to lock-up multiple targets simultaneously, and launch a missile at every one of them within a couple of seconds. As the missile guides itself to the target after release, with no user input, it is effectively a "fire-and-forget" type weapon that allows the crew of the launch platform to turn their attention to a different task. However, this guidance method isn't without its faults. Infrared homing ATGMs are known to attack anything on the battlefield with a sufficient heat output, to include smoldering shell craters, burning debris, and vehicles already knocked-out. The use of decoy flare launchers and infrared jamming systems have also proven effective countermeasures, and the same environments in which the effectiveness of laser guidance is degraded also affects infrared seeker heads. Moreover, the increasing use of engine cooling systems and infrared insulation on armored vehicles has also affected the viability of infrared homing missiles.

   The active radar homing guidance system is similar to that used on the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missile. It is commonly called MiliMeter Wave, or MMW, guidance, because the wavelength used. The guidance method differs from anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles however, in that rather than simply homing-in on a coherent radar reflector (which would make attacking a ground target impossible in most conditions, due to ground clutter), the seeker head instead locks onto an object that stands-out in three dimensions from the rest of the terrain. Thus, although the sensor system is radically different, the Longbow Hellfire recognizes and homes-in on its target in much the same manner as electro-optical guided weapons of years past; by image recognition. As a result, this variant is a completely fire-and-forget type munition, requiring no input from the operator aside from cuing the target and launching the missile, which eliminates the need to launch multiple missiles in tandem at one target in order to attack many (as described above).

   The missile is propelled by a two-stage system, with a booster that is expended in a fraction of a second, and a sustainer motor that propels the missile through the remainder of its flight. Both are solid fuel rockets. The sustainer motor has an exceptionally slow burn for an ATGM rocket engine, which is how the Mokopa was able to achieve such a long range. It is also smokeless and flameless, with a relatively low heat output.

   The Mokopa's primary warhead is a tandem shaped charge, with a precursor charge that defeats Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) immediately prior to the detonation of the main charge behind it. It is rated to penetrate 1 350 mm of Rolled Homogeneous Armor equivalent (RHAe) after ERA, which would make the Mokopa one of the most formidable anti-armor munitions in service today, and easily the most powerful missile in its class by a wide margin when it was first unveiled in the 1990s. An High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) warhead for anti-ship duty has also been offered for the Mokopa, as has a Thermobaric warhead, though their performance have not been published. There has also been a "penetration" warhead advertised for the Mokopa, although it is unclear how it would operate.

   The Mokopa has been demonstrated on a wide range of rotary-wing and fixed-wing launch platforms, including the AH-2 Rooivalk and Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters, the Super Lynx utility helicopter, and the AHRLAC light attack aircraft. It has also been offered as a ground-launched and sea-launched weapon, through to date no customers have employed it in surface operations. Not unlike the Hellfire, it appears the Mokopa is destined to serve only as an air-launched munition.

   The Mokopa's performance significantly exceeds that of most other ATGMs, and even that of the vaunted Hellfire (which, as demonstrated in numerous conflicts, is not a weak weapon). Compared to the AGM-114L Hellfire, the Mokopa is faster by Mach 0.2, has a 1 km longer range, and penetrates almost 50% more armor, despite being essentially the same size and weight. It also has 2 alternate guidance systems (including infrared guidance, which was never used in any Hellfire) and 2 alternate warheads. Even the new "Romeo Hellfire" (the AGM-114R) variant hasn't completely closed all of these gaps, demonstrating just how far ahead of its time this little-known and widely-dismissed South African Missile was --- and still is. The matter is not entirely clear-cut however, as the Hellfire has advantages of its own, such as a top-attack capability in later models.

   The Mokopa program hasn't been free of scandal, however. As reported by Al Jazeera on February 23rd 2015, classified information from the Mokopa program was stolen by Danie Steenkamp (formerly a senior technician at Denel) and Anthony Viljoen (the managing director of a business partner of Denel) between 2008 and 2009, and sold for a handsome sum of money to a Mossad agent. Both men were arrested and tried for espionage among other offenses, though Viljoen was virtually acquitted in exchange for becoming a state witness. The documentation for the missile is reportedly still held by the Mossad, who have agreed to return it to Denel, but only if certain individuals with Mossad ties that were arrested in South Africa for espionage are freed and allowed to leave the country. The greatest mystery is *why* the Mossad stole these documents, as Israel's own missile industry is thriving and technologically advanced, and that defense industries of South Africa and Israel have had ties for decades.

   In addition to the SAAF, the Mokopa has also been exported to the Moroccan Navy starting in 2012, and the South African Navy began using this missile in 2015. Both navies launch the Mokopa from the Super Lynx 300 helicopter, though plans are underway in the Moroccan Navy to acquire a surface launch capability as well.

   At present, the Mokopa is operated by Morocco and South Africa, and it is still in production and offered for export. To date, the program has cost approximately $15 Million. The unit cost has not been published.

 

Similar weapons

 

   AGM-114 Hellfire: This US-made, helicopter-launched ATGM was the missile the SANDF originally wanted, and was used as a model of sorts for the design of the Mokopa.

   Brimstone: The Brimstone is a British development of the Hellfire especially optimized for use by fixed-wing aircraft. However, its performance is significantly greater than that of the Hellfire and Mokopa, particularly in the matter of range.

   9K121 Vikhr: Code-named AS-16 Scallion by the West, the Russia's 9K121 Vikhr is a much narrower weapon than its contemporaries, is launched from a tube, and employs a laser beam-riding guidance system (rather than semi-active laser guidance). It is quite powerful for its side, and its High Explosive Dual-Purpose (HEDP) warhead is also effective against aircraft, helicopters, and soft targets, in addition to boasting 1 000 mm RHAe armor penetration after ERA. Unlike most other contemporaries, this missile is also commonly used by both aircraft and helicopters.

   Nag: This recent Indian-designed ATGM is infrared-guided or radar-guided, and can be used by helicopters, aircraft, and tank destroyers alike. The performance of the Nag is competitive with its contemporaries, but it has been troublesome in development and service.

   Nimrod: The Israeli Nimrod ATGM is similar in size and performance to the Brimstone, but it is also used on helicopters. The Nimrod is laser-guided.

   LAHAT: The Israeli LAHAT is rather unusual among contemporary ATGMs, in that it was developed as a gun-launched missile for use by tanks, but it can also be launched from 106 mm recoilless rifles, and even fired from launch tubes on helicopters. Like the Nimrod, the LAHAT is laser-guided.

 

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Mokopa ATGM

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Mokopa ATGM

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Mokopa ATGM

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Mokopa ATGM

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