Inside EDGE – Al Tariq modular precision-guided munitions in continuous evolution

Paolo Valpolini

With the first Al Tariq kit aimed at transforming a Mk 80 series aerial bomb into a precision-guided munition (PGM) produced in November 2015 by then Tawazun Dynamics, what is now Al Tariq, part of the EDGE Missiles & Weapons cluster, the modular kit is continuously being upgraded and improved to provide cutting edge performances to customers

Started in 2012 as a joint venture between Denel of South Africa, owning 49% of the shares, and the UAE with 51% of them, Al Tariq is the home of EDGE’s PGMs. “Our kit is fully modular,” Dean Olivier, Al Tariq Chief Executive Officer said, “and it can be used on Mk81, Mk82 and Mk83 bombs, simply adopting different interfaces.”

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Having in its inventory 120, 250 and 450 kg bombs, the customer can decide first on the lethal capacity needed according to the target. Secondly, he can select the delivery range depending on the mission and enemy air defences, which will being to the decision if adopting or not the wings kit. The so-called Al Tariq S, for standard range, kit without wings ensures a 30-45 km stand-off range when the bomb is dropped at 30,000 ft altitude at Mach 0.9 speed, while the Al Tariq LR, for long range, kit which includes wings brings the range at over 120 km.

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Finally, depending on the type of target and accuracy required, comes the choice of the seeker that will provide terminal guidance; this can be selected between GNSS, semi-active laser (SAL) or Imaging InfraRed (IIR) with automatic target recognition (ATR) capability. Height-of-Burst sensors are included, to cope with areal targets. This provides 18 different solutions to the planner, who can tailor the weapons load of a mission, a mix of different kitted bombs ensuring for example considerable flexibility, with a limited logistic footprint. The Al Tariq kit is designed to be installed on western-designed aircraft however an adaptor kit for Russian-made platforms is available.

While navigation along the route is provided by a GNSS/IMU satellite-inertial system, the terminal phase seeker is obviously the one that influences the most the cost of the kit, but also considerably changes performances. The IIR seeker is produced in-house using a detector matrix acquired from a third party, and ensures an accuracy better than 2 metres, allowing also hitting moving targets.

To cope with GNSS-denied scenarios, the kits are fitted with what the company defines as a “very accurate IMS with minimum drift” and with an antijam/antispoof GNSS receiver. The Al Tariq kit allows to programme the angle of attack, which can be selected between 30 and 90°, the kit also allowing attacking the target from behind.

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Two levels of integration with the platform can be provided. Deep integration sees the Al Tariq kitted bomb interfaced with the aircraft avionics, ensuring maximum functionality and flexibility. This is the solution adopted on the Mirage 2000-9 of the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF), which until now remains the only customer. The UAEAF also adopted the shallow integration solution on other platforms, here for example target images being pre-loaded before take-off. The pilot can be equipped with a tablet that is linked via wireless link to the weapon kit, however flexibility is lower than that obtained with full integration. The shallow integration obviously allows to quickly obtain a capability, for example in the case of an urgent operational requirement, full integration being carried out at a late date.

Al Tariq is continuously improving its kit. “In 2023 we performed 48 flight tests, each time using new software and new parameters to push forward the system development,” Deon Olivier said. All software upgrades are back-up compatible, which is not the case when hardware is involved. However, the CEO unveiled that his company obtained a contract to upgrade old kits and provide them further 10 years of life. As underlined by the CEO, the upgrade programme deals firstly with components that need replacing, which in the guidance kit currently starts 10 years after the system is fielded. Al Tariq is also working on improving accuracy, to bring it under 1 metre, considering all the kit elements, the key being the IIR seeker. This will allow answering to the increasing stringent specifications imposed by customers.

Beside the improvements on existing kits, Al Tariq is also looking at new products and solutions.

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“We are looking at new aerodynamic profiles to further improve range, not only for current but also for future weapons,” Deon Oliver said. The company is considering the development of a new kit dedicated to the Mk84 1,000 lb bomb, a different system being required to cope with a different centre of gravity, higher inertia, and other different parameters. EDR On-Line understood this will have reduced rear fins that will pop-out after the weapon is dropped, ensuring a 40 km range without wings.

Al Tariq kits are in full production, and several thousand of them have already been produced. “We have a production capacity of 1,000 weapons per year, however existing contracts do not cover the full capacity,” the company CEO said, adding that in 2023 Al Tariq delivered 600 kits.

As said, until now only the UAE ordered the Al Tariq kit, however “we are working on international contracts, although we do not yet have an export customer,” Deon Olivier concluded.

Photos courtesy EDGE