Country of origin
1 350 mm RHAe after ERA
HEAT, HE-FRAG, or Thermobaric
Semi-active laser, infrared homing, or active
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
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.
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
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
The Mokopa has been demonstrated on a wide range of
rotary-wing and fixed-wing launch platforms, including the AH-2
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
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.
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.
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.
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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