What The Future May Hold For South Africa's Iconic Rooivalk Combat Helicopter
The Rooivalk combat support helicopter has proved its performance and operational success in the African theatre. The question now is what the future holds for the current fleet, which is in need of a serious upgrade. With futuristic looks that were ahead of its time, the Rooivalk was based on the South African Oryx helicopter, which in turn was modelled on the French Aerospatiale SA 330 Puma. The Rooivalk is the only vertical take-off and landing combat helicopter in South Africa able to operate from diverse terrain, tight spaces, and in a range of weather conditions. Denel Aviation oversees the design and is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the Rooivalk. There are 11 Rooivalk currently in the MK1 Block 1F standard, with the 12th having sustained a hard landing.
The helicopter has seen much successful flying time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the United Nations as a peacekeeping capability against rebels. In 2016, the Rooivalk fired 1 200 70mm rockets and 11 000 rounds of 20mm ammunition, an increase from the 55 70mm rockets fired in 2013 when the aircraft was first deployed to the DRC. The Rooivalk is designed to carry a variety of missiles depending on operator requirements. It can be armed with a F2 20mm cannon, 38 or 76 FZ70 70mm or FZ90 90mm unguided rockets, four MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles, and eight or 16 Denel precision-guided anti-tank Mokopa or Ingwe laser guided, beam-riding missiles.
Regarding upgrades to the helicopter, the South African Department of Defence is in the process of determining future requirements with Denel having identified upgrades needed for future operational needs (avionics and weapons). Denel may eventually integrate the A-Darter air-to-air missile onto the helicopter. In September 2016 at the Africa Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (AAD), Denel and Airbus Helicopters signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to enhance the Rooivalk in phases. The Rooivalk uses Airbus Helicopters technologies for engine and gearbox components. Hensoldt Optronics Argos II airborne observation system (designed and produced in South Africa) will be fitted onto the Rooivalk. In February 2016, Denel divulged that it is considering developing a next generation Rooivalk MK2 at a demonstration at the Denel Overberg Test Range (DOTR) where a Rooivalk fired two Mokopa missiles as part of on-going qualification testing.
The future may indeed be full of promise for the Rooivalk. Successful operations in the DRC are proof that the helicopter is not as obsolete as opinions suggest and despite its dated avionics, is effective in combat operations in Africa. The helicopter market is growing in the developing world and Denel is focusing its attention on smaller players looking for a regional capability. Denel should also be open to partnerships especially from its African allies as a solution to funding issues, marketing the Rooivalk as an African protector.
Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA