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Home | Programmes | African Warrior fires up
South African flagAfrican Warrior fires up

Africa’s main thrust in soldier modernisation focuses on dealing with the specifics of the continent’s environment

Denel Land Systems’ AMV-based Badger infantry combat vehicle programme is one of the platforms that could carry African Warrior. © Denel
Denel Land Systems’ AMV-based Badger infantry combat vehicle programme is one of the platforms that could carry African Warrior. © Denel

The African Warrior concept for soldier modernisation in South Africa is the most advanced on the continent, with development led by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and Armscor, the latter the acquisition organisation for the South African Department of Defence. An African Warrior Assault Rifle concept has been developed, which explores modernisation of existing small arms for future environments.

“[In 2006] we went through a project study phase, where we determined the way forward in terms of small arms and in terms of an assault rifle for the Defence Force. This is the concept for the future assault rifle, until such time we look at a new rifle for the SANDF,” explained Nico Ras, Programme Manager, African Warrior at Armscor. The way forward for African Warrior is via an incremental approach explained Ras, “We are currently in what we call the Warrior programme [running from 2007- 2011]. Then the acquisition strategy is to go to Future Project 1 [with production from 2011], which will typically look at near term Command and Control system equipment and items. Future Project 2 [with production from 2014] will look at equipment such as integrated helmet systems. The reasons for this phased approach are economic. Based on allocated budget, we will follow a phased approach in term of our Warrior programme.” Further iterations will follow Future Project 2 as and when they are considered necessary.


The African battlespace poses specific requirements for systems developers. First, the large majority of African countries are classed as developing and Africa has the fastest level of urbanisation in the globe, with the number of new inhabitants in Lagos and Johannesburg rising from 3000-5000 per day. Infrastructure often struggles to keep pace with this population growth. Today, roughly 40 percent of the continent’s population live in cities but by 2020 it is predicted to exceed half, with at least 11 African cities having populations of over five million. Lagos alone is expected to have a population of 25 million by 2015. African Warrior must be capable of operating effectively amongst these extremely dense populations.

Any system must also overcome a vast range of terrains, climates and a vast range of potential military opponents; starting from rebels but also including conventional militaries.

Combat in Africa is considered to be largely intrastate, interspersed with semi-conventional inter-state conflict characterised by hostilities between Chad and Libya and Eritrea and Ethiopia. These are largely fought by dismounted forces, supported by light and medium armoured fighting vehicles, ‘Technicals’, RPGs and artillery. The project, fully accepts the underlying assumptions behind US Marine Corps General, Charles Krulak’s Three Block War, with militaries challenged to deal with both soldiers and civilians –sometimes with traditional noncombatants such as children and women moving between these categories - within a very small geographic area.

In dense, complex terrain, the African Warrior concept has placed great emphasis on maintaining Situational Awareness (SA), particularly ensuring peripheral vision at all times. A requirement to aim with both eyes open reflects this need, as does enabling the soldier to decide from a wide range of effects he wants to use in a given situation. A small arm capability is seen not just in terms of lethality but in terms of navigation and SA as well.

In open terrain, the SANDF expect to fights over 300m-600m. Operations in urban terrain is an area in which the SANDF requirements are not as clear cut, reflecting limited historical experience of fighting in this environment. A definitive preference has however has been made that a less than lethal capability should preferably be integrated as part of the personal small arm being carried, rather than having to be unslung or taken out of a bag when it is needed.


South Africa has a considerable range of technology for African Warrior to draw upon in terms of dismounted lethality. © Denel
South Africa has a considerable range of technology for African Warrior to draw upon in terms of dismounted lethality. © Denel

The basis for the African Warrior Rifle concept is the R4, a licence copy for the IMI Galil. The position of the SANDF is that while the basic weapon platform and technology will continue in service, improved target effect requirements will be advanced, not just in terms of lethality against individuals or soft skin vehicles but effective engagement and neutralisation of threats via a Less Lethal capability on the weapon.

Work has been undertaken on examining moving to a SS109 NATO standard round which would also add accuracy with the introduction of a new barrel using a more common one in eight twist. In terms of cost effectiveness, however the SANDF have decided to forego this option, and use the funds in other areas of soldier modernisation. A new assault rifle is likely to be considered as part of ‘Warrior/Future Project 3’. However, with the SANDF being one of very few military users of this type of ammunition, its procurement is becoming increasingly expensive, creating the potential to bring a replacement rifle decision forward.

Attachments are key to the overall enhancement of the Rifle concept. Ras said, “First we need to integrate and set a generic interface on weapon systems to change your attachment, which may require changing for the mission. That will be the Picatinny standard which is acceptable world wide.”

A major capability multiplier will be the introduction of new sights as Ras explained. “To improve the aiming capability we are going for a tactical Reflex Sight configuration as well as a Image Magnification Sight configuration. In terms of day/night capability we are also going to look at an image intensification night sight and for future requirements we are going to look at multi-spectral sights. In terms of illumination capability, it is the basic rifle torch and laser pointer for urban requirements.”

Night surveillance requirements require detection at up to 300m and identification at up to 150m with a field of view of 60x60 degrees. It was felt that providing soldiers with a warning that ‘something’ was coming at 300m was sufficient time for them to prepare for potential engagement at 150m. In terms of target designation and illumination there is a need to give users an aim and shoot capability for Close Quarter Battle at up to 50m in a dark environment. There is also a requirement for additional aiming devices to give users an anti-sniper capability operating over longer ranges. The R4 was an effective upper range of 500m. Within the African Warrior Rifle concept the goal is to include an appliqué simulation capability to ensure soldiers train as they fight, using the same weapon. This is seen not as a replacement for live firing but an enhancement to provide additional training capabilities.

In terms of the Less Than Lethal capabilities, there is a debate around the use of bayonets in the African battlespace as to whether this could be described as a Less Than Lethal capability.

“To improve Less Than Lethal capabilities, we are looking - as a concept only – at a grenade launcher”, explained Ras. He added that an ‘electrical prodder’ is also being assessed. The electrical prodder is a commercially sourced item which would attach to a standard R4 bayonet lug and would be in scenarios such as troops protecting aid convoys from crowds and mobs against which lethal and other less than lethal are either unacceptable, inappropriate or ineffective.

The more diverse personnel mix - which now includes women - within today’s SANDF is prompting in physical changes to the weapon. “In terms of our military population in the SANDF, we need to look at ergonomics as well,” said Ras. This has led to a shortening of the stock of the R4 and the inclusion of a cleaning kit within it, for ease of use in the future. Many armies have opted for an adjustable stock in their weapon upgrade plans, and this was considered for the African Warrior Rifle concept work, and may be introduced in the future.

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