Denel will in the next three to six months know whether the Department of Defence will support the restart of Rooivalk production.
Denel Group CEO Riaz Saloojee said yesterday he hopes Denel will get an agreement in place to develop an updated Rooivalk helicopter, which will be a very significant achievement for the company. He said the Rooivalk was probably one of two of the best attack helicopters in the world and that it doesn’t make sense in terms of such a sovereign capability not to have a roadmap going forward on future developments.
Armscor, the Department of Defence and Denel are in discussions on upgrading the aircraft in line with the recommendations of the Defence Review, which will influence force design and funding.
Saloojee said the Rooivalk may be upgraded or a new attack helicopter developed, based on the Rooivalk.
Both the South African and foreign militaries, such as Brazil, have expressed interest in restarting production.
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is on record saying that the Rooivalk needs to be re-established as a strategic sovereign capability for use in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some of the aircraft were painted white and were deployed to the DRC at the beginning of November 2013 in support of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) comprising South African, Tanzanian and Malawian forces. Several days after they arrived, they engaged in their first ever combat mission, against M23 rebels, using 70 mm rockets and 20 mm cannon. The following day, the M23 group called an end to its 20-month rebellion, saying it would disarm and pursue peace talks. “We believe M23 had to retreat because of the Rooivalk,” Mapisa-Nqakula said at the time.
Saloojee on an earlier occasion said that the Rooivalk roadmap involves examining the feasibility of restarting production, looking at technology improvements and finding partners. He said that it will be “essential” to find an international partner and that Denel was in discussion with a number of countries in this regard.
However, as with any complex programme, there are technical and funding issues that will have to be addressed like ensuring sufficient technical skills for a programme of such magnitude and establishment of industrial partnerships for critical sub-systems together with the re-establishment of manufacturing and production processes including specialised jigs and other special equipment.
After manufacture of three prototype aircraft (which were the experimental development model or XDM, engineering development model or EDM and the advanced development model or ADM), and 12 production aircraft, 11 aircraft are in service with the South African Air Force (one was written off after a crash).
After retrofitting the current Rooivalk Mk 1 to a standard baseline (or the so called Mk 1F baseline), the Rooivalk was awarded a full military type certificate in April 2011 by the Military Airworthiness Board. Modifications were made to various systems, such as weapons and sights and its troublesome gearbox.
Denel Aviation stopped marketing the Rooivalk in 2007 after failing to gain export contracts. However, Denel Aviation CEO Mike Kgobe has said that it is possible to re-establish the production line provided a minimum order quantity, estimated at between 75-100, is achieved to make the programme economically viable.
Defence expert Helmoed Heitman has said that the DRC deployment has demonstrated the Rooivalk as having significantly better availability and easier maintainability than the Mi-25s/35s in the theatre – that despite old 286 computers etc. “There are only two things wrong with the Rooivalk – we do not have enough of them, and we do not yet have any precision weapons (Mokopa is now in production; laser-homing rockets we can buy in).” Although the Rooivalk has been qualified to carry the Mokopa, the South African Air Force has yet to buy any of the anti-tank missiles.