Denel and Aselsan further collaborate on Rooivalk modernisation

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Denel Aeronautics and Aselsan have signed an agreement covering future avionics modernisation of the Rooivalk attack helicopter, following an earlier memorandum of understanding announced at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition last year.

Denel said it signed a Certificate of Milestone Achievement with Aselsan on 27 July, establishing a workshare definition concerning avionics modernisation. The two companies have identified areas of cooperation for a potential upgrade of the helicopter, which is currently at Block 1F baseline.

At AAD in September 2022, Denel and Aselsan agreed to work towards integration of Aselsan’s MEROPS system on the Rooivalk and possibly on the Seeker 400 unmanned aerial vehicle. A MEROPS gimbal was displayed alongside the Rooivalk in the static area of the exhibition.

As the Rooivalk original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Denel Aeronautics is the helicopter’s Design Authority and has successfully integrated various avionics subsystems from multiple companies – it previously fitted a Hensoldt Optronics Argos II gimbal to the helicopter as a proof-of-concept, for example.

Denel’s interim Group Chief Executive Officer, Michael Kgobe, said Aselsan’s “expertise and capabilities make them the preferred technology partner for the South African Rooivalk modernisation programme and we are delighted that Aselsan continues to show commitment to our collaborative agreement, exceeding the objectives and scope of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in September 2022 within just six months.”

Aselsan upgrades to the Rooivalk’s avionics system would include an enhanced glass cockpit with larger screens, digital moving map, a new helmet-mounted display system and a modern flight management system. “These will be driven by two new mission computers that will control different aircraft management systems,” Denel said, along with a new weapon systems computer.

A new navigation system would incorporate an Inertial Navigation System (INS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) while a communication suite would be equipped with software-based V/UHF and HF radios, Mod-5/S capable identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder and a digital intercommunication system.

“The Rooivalk will be equipped with advanced targeting systems to engage ground targets effectively. This includes a long-range day/night sighting system, a thermal imaging sensor, low-light television, and a laser rangefinder/designator for accurate weapon delivery,” Denel said.

To enhance survivability, a modernised Rooivalk would integrate various defensive systems, including modern radar warning receivers (RWR), chaff and flare dispensers to counter incoming missiles, and infrared jammers to disrupt heat-seeking missiles.

“The advancements related to the modernisation of the attack helicopter are a key technology driver for the Denel Group and are poised as being a South African National Flagship programme, leveraging off institutional knowledge and public-private partnership for the advancement of national imperatives as well as the collective South African defence industry,” Denel said.

“The modernisation programme for the Rooivalk Combat Support Helicopter aims to enhance the operational capability and supportability of the existing fleet. This includes a strong emphasis on improving capability, reliability and addressing obsolescence issues. The Programme also considers changes in hardware and software, aligning with the requirements of the South African Air Force.”

For a number of years Denel, the South African Air Force (SAAF) and Armscor have been investigating the possibility of developing a Rooivalk Mk II helicopter, following a 2016 avionics and weapons obsolescence study for the current Rooivalk.

Little funding has been made available for upgrading the Rooivalk, but Denel sees potential in the aircraft, especially with international interest, and hopes to at least make incremental improvements to the aircraft.

The South African Air Force ordered 12 Rooivalks and the first entered into service in July 1999. Three Rooivalk were deployed to support the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in 2013 and have remained in the combat support role there ever since.

While Aselsan is a Turkish company, it has a subsidiary (Aselsan South Africa) based in Pretoria. The local branch serves as a centre of excellence for the mother company in Turkey and not only provides design and development capabilities, but also acts as the hub for Aselsan’s business development strategy in markets in sub-Saharan Africa and the establishment of long-term relationships.

Aselsan SA has provided advanced camera systems to Denel’s OTR test range and other local customers, including the Institute of Maritime Technology, Paramount Technologies, and Reutech Radar Systems.

Aselsan as a global company operates in a wide range of disciplines, from communication and information technologies (ICT), micro-electronics, guidance and electro-optics to radar, electronic warfare, and defence systems technologies. It is also active in transportation, security, energy, and automation systems.