Fact file: Denel CSH2/AH2 Rooivalk attack helicopter


Denel CSH2/AH2A Rooivalk
Combat support helicopter
Countries of origin:            
South Africa, France.
First flight:            
February 11, 1990; Engineering Development Model: February 17, 1997.
Roll-out dates:
First model: January 15, 1990, Advanced Development Model: 1992, Engineer Development Model: November 17, 1996. Still a project and not an operational system by mid-2008. 
Delivered to the SAAF:      
From May 7, 1998.
Associated project name(s):
12 production aircraft built; two prototypes exist in addition.  
R8.1 billion[1].
US$40 million each[2]
R500 million each[3]
In late 2006, informed aviation industry sources put the price of the Denel-manufactured “Mark 1” at US25 million and that of a mooted “Mark II” at US15 million. By comparison, a Mil 24/5 Hind retails at US10 million. (The Mark II would have updated cockpit avionics and simpler weapons). Denel also had plans in 2006 to sell about 90 of the rotorcraft to Turkey for US2 billion (R14 billion), a price that has been described as a “garage sale”.       
Pilot, weapons systems operator (interchangeable cockpits).  
Major dimensions & weights
·         Wingspan (rotor diameter): 
·         Number of main rotor blades:                 
·         Main rotor disc area:            
·         Wingspan (tail rotor diameter):
·         Number of tail rotor blades:              
·         Length (fuselage):      
·         Length (rotor running): 
·         Landing-gear wheel base:
·         Height:                          
·         Width (stub wingtip to wingtip):
·         Width (wheelbase):    
·         Width (fuselage, including sponsons):    
·         Basic empty weight:   
·         Max take-off weight:  
·         Payload:
·         Max landing weight:  
·         Max internal fuel:      
·         Max external fuel:     
·         Max cargo weight:
·         15.58m.
·         4.
·         191.13m2 (2057.43ft2).
·         3.051m.
·         5.
·         16.39m.
·         18.74m.
·         11.77m.
·         5.187m.
·         6.355m.
·         3.005m.
·         1.77m.                           .              
·         5.910mt.
·         8.75mt.
·         3.5mt
·         –
·         1.469mt.
·         –
·         –
·         Operating conditions:
·         Take-off to clear 15m:
·         Landing from 15m:   
·         Rate of climb:               
·         Service ceiling:            
·         Max operating speed:        
·         Max sideway speed:  
·         Max cruise speed:         
·         Max range at cruise speed: 
·         Ferry range:                
·         Max endurance with 881litres of fuel:          
·         Stall speed:                  
·         G-loads:                        
·         Wing loading:              
·         Thrust:          
·         Bypass ratio:
·         Thrust/weight ratio:
·         -35degC to +50degC; +32degC seen as norm.
·         None (Vertical take-off).
·         None (Vertical landing).
·         2620ft/min.
·         Greater than 20,000ft.
·         167kts.
·         +- 50kts.
·         240km/h. 
·         700km.
·         700km, 1260km with external tanks).
·         –
·         –
·         –
·         –
·         –
·         –
·         –
Engine Specifications
·         Make:                           
·         Model:                          
·         Type:
·         Number:
·         Compression ratio:
·         Engine length:             
·         Engine height:             
·         Engine width:
·         Dry weight:                  
·         Power turbine rotor speed:
·         Twin engine take-off rating:       
·         Single engine super contingency rating:    
·         Transmission rating (max continuous):
·         Transmission rating (max take off):      
·         Turbomeca.
·         Makila 1K2.
·         Turboshaft.
·         2.
·         –
·         2.103m.
·         0.68m
·         0.528m
·         0.243mt.
·         –
·         1492kW.
·         1716kW.
·         1817kW.
·         2243kW.      
Hard points:        
Provision for three pylons on each stub wing (670kg on the inner pylon, 285 on the outer and 260kg on the wingtip pylon.              
·         Cannon:                       
·         Rockets:                       
·         Missiles:                        
·         F2 20mm, 750 rounds.
·         38 or 76 FZ70 70mm or FZ90 90mm unguided rockets.
·         Designed for 4 x Mistral short-range infra-red air-to-air on wingtips, or 2 x V3D short-range infra-red air-to-air missiles on wingtip or 8 or 16 Denel Mokopa, Denel Ingwe or Euromissile HOT. The “reduced functionality” redesign Denel delivered for operational use in September 2008 lacked a missile capability.        
Other attachments:            
2 x 750 litre ferry tanks.  
Keith Campbell of Engineering News[4] has asked if the Rooivalk is a turkey or dud. It is not, but it might well be a dinosaur that survived its mass extinction.
But without Rooivalk much of today`s South African aviation industry would not exist. Developing a viable local aviation industry was as much a strategic objective of the greater Rooivalk programme as developing a helicopter that could smash Cuban-crewed Soviet tanks on the Angolan savannah.
The Rooivalk was conceived in the 1980s as a tank-buster operating in a high-threat, high-intensity environment of the type the SA Defence Force imagined for Cold War southern Africa in the 1990s. That world never materialised as a consequence of the end of the Soviet Union and South Africa`s transition to nonracial democracy.
The programme was approved in March 1984 and followed an earlier project study that in 1976 culminated in the development of the “Alpha XH1” prototype based on the Alouette III light utility helicopter.
In addition to destroying enemy tanks and other armoured vehicles, tasks for the planned fleet of 36 – three squadrons – included escorting and supporting heliborne raiding forces, assisting ground forces, conducting counterinsurgency, engaging in air-to-air combat, anti-shipping attack and reconnaissance tasks in addition to carrying out interdiction work against convoys, personnel, logistics and command sites in the enemy rear area.   
The SA Air Force (SAAF) then lost interest in the system but was compelled by government to acquire 12 of the aircraft to boost the type`s export potential. But nothing came of this and the SAAF was stuck with a squadron of rotorcraft it never wanted.
Project codenames are selected by faceless officials in Defence Intelligence and applied to programmes as they are registered. The Rooivalk project was registered as “Impose” and seldom has a project name been more apt.  
The result of the Department of Public Enterprises-inspired imposition has been a decade of under-funding, meaning that in March 2008, 24 years after the start of Project Impose commenced, the Rooivalk was still a project.      
SAAF chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano has on a number of occasions confirmed the low status of the Rooivalk programme, notably in April 2005 and March 2007. On the latter occasion he said the UN had no immediate need for the helicopter in the DRC, Burundi or Sudan “and as a result operationalising the helicopter was no longer a priority”.  This runs counter to continued Cabinet insistence that the system is urgently required for peacekeeping duty and that its operationalisation is a priority.  
When conceived it was meant to be “a cost effective, off-the- shelf, reliable weapon system…”[5] But it is none of these, nor for a decade after delivery operational.
Several myths surround the programme; principally that it is an indigenous design. It is not. As should be clear from a cursory examination, the type is essentially a gunship version of the Oryx, itself a Eurocopter Puma-Cougar hybrid.
Although SA may not be keen to admit this for reasons of pride and the French may be equally reluctant – as their involvement up to 1994 was in violation of a UN arms embargo, it is known that Eurocopter and Turbomeca engineers did extensive development work on the design.
Another myth, propagated as recently as December 2005, is the so-called cost advantage of the platform relative to its peers. A defence journal wrote: “It seems likely that, benefiting from low labour rates in South Africa, the Rooivalk can be sold for less than its US and European competitors.”[6] But this contrasts with repeated complaints from Denel over the fickleness of its technical staff that have to be paid international rates to keep them at Denel and in SA.
Since the delivery of the last Rooivalk to the SAAF in 2004 the production line has largely been gathering dust and the highly skilled production force dispersed to other projects. Many have also left the company – and the country.[7]
The Denel 2007/8 Annual Report indicates this is still so, saying the “required skills base to complete the final technical milestones has been eroded substantially, thus adding further pressure on the delivery timelines linked to the programme.”
Should Denel succeed in selling any more of the platforms, a major staffing and re-education process would have to precede production to replace lost skills, and more importantly, lost institutional memory and knowledge.
There is also the myth of Rooivalk superiority when compared with peer systems. Then-SAAF director of projects Bob King put it this way in 1993: “Rooivalk is the best in the world – better than the US built (Boeing AH64) Apache, which is more expensive.”[8] In size the two are certainly peers, as is the Russian Mil24/25/35 Hind (and its successor, the Mil Mi28 Havoc).
Whether the one is better than the other is not for this writer to say. The Rooivalk was not operational for a decade after delivery and the majority of its designed-for weapons have yet to be integrated.
While one assumes King was referring to the AH64A version of the Apache, not the current AH64D Longbow variant, and while one knows the AH64 programme has had a manifold of problems – including a too-high cockpit workload and a difficulty flying at night during the Kosovo war in 1999 (when two were flown into the ground during manoeuvres), King`s claims are difficult to believe in the absence of corroborating evidence. To this writer`s knowledge, none has ever been provided. Propaganda claims of this sort are in any case best avoided. It may make the patriotic heart beat faster, but at the cost of credibility.       
Turkey short listed the Rooivalk for its ATAK (armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter) programme in late June 2006, in what Denel said was an US2 billion contract for up to 91 helicopters but which the country`s defence minister, Vecdi Gonul said was an initial purchase of 30 followed by an option for 20 more.
The Rooivalk was short listed alongside AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta International. Gonul told The Associated Press[9]that American bidders withdrew over concerns about technology transfer. By comparison, Denel`s bid included full transfer of equipment and technology, leading some to compare the deal to a fire sale. “The goal is to co-produce the helicopters, not buy them off-the-shelf.”
In the meantime, its 16 Squadron crews in 2006 began working up on the helicopter to achieve day and night operational capability with cannon and rockets. The helicopter was, however, not entirely up to the regimen, one making a hard landing in September 2006 apparently after the loss of power to an engine. As a result, the fleet was grounded and only one Rooivalk flew at AAD2006 at AFB Ysterplaat that month. It afterwards emerged that the type suffers of a gearbox not suitable to its flight profile. The problem has reportedly been long in running and as long concealed.       
In May 2007, Business Day newspaper[10] quoted Denel as deciding that the Rooivalk was not commercially viable and that it would not spend any new money on the helicopters. “Armscor and the defence department will now have to decide whether to subsidise the maintenance of Denel’s Rooivalk capability so that it can continue servicing the 12 helicopters bought by the South African Air Force over their 25-year lifespan,” the paper said. “The other option would be for the air force to mothball the helicopters and for the costs to be written off entirely.”

Then-Public Enterprises Alec Erwin said in an interview that the departments of defence and public enterprises would have to decide the fate of the Rooivalk.
The Denel annual report shows that Cabinet decided in favour of retaining the helicopter, albeit with a “revised functionality within the existing allocated financial resources.
“The aircraft will have a scaled down weapons system and should be delivered by September 2008, failing which the Group will incur penalties.”
The report then says Denel “is committed to meeting the milestones as directed by Cabinet. However, it will require the full support of Armscor and the DoD to execute the revised mandate. Once achieved, this technical baseline should be maintained for a period of five years.”
Campbell notes the Rooivalk remains a legitimate requirement for a number of reasons: It is “the only vertical take-off and landing combat aircraft available to a country like South Africa. Unlike the SAAF’s fighters, they do not need good-quality surfaces to operate from, nor large spaces, and they will also be able to operate from the flight decks of the Navy’s planned amphibious ships,” he says.
“Cancelling the Rooivalk will leave a gap which will, sooner or later, have to be filled by buying someone else’s attack helicopter.” Indeed. 

Let the negativity surrounding this project not obscure two key facts:
– Rooivalk was – and remains – a major accomplishment.
– The underlying premise and requirement remains valid, if not for the SAAF, for the SA Army that certainly wants and needs this capability. In fact the SA Army Vision 2020 medium (mechanised) division includes provision for an attack helicopter squadron.

And all is not doom and gloom either: Denel`s failure in Turkey and governments circumspection may open the way for ATE to upgrade the Rooivalk to Rooivalk II standard, discarding the Mokopa and using the Ingwe instead, replacing the chin 20mm cannon and upgrading the cockpit avionics that was state-of-the-art 20 years ago.     

At least one Arab customer is interested in Rooivalk II. A dinosaur perhaps, but not extinct, not yet.     

[1] About the cost of the three submarines acquired in 1999 or R1bn more than the cost of 24 BAE Systems Hawks acquired at the same time as part of the Strategic Defence Package. Also the approximate cost of 264 infantry fighting vehicles acquired for the SA Army (Project Hoefyster).    
[2] Helmoed-Römer Heitman in Keith Campbell, What went wrong with the Rooivalk?, Engineetring News, June 8, 2007, http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article.php?a_id=110041, accessed November 4, 2008. “This makes it as expensive as the Boeing Apache and the Eurocopter Tiger, the latest models of which have state-of-the-art avionics, and much more expensive than the smaller AgustaWestland Mangusta/Mongoose, and the Russian Mi-24/35 family.”
[3] Roy Cokayne, Doubt over Rooivalk’s future after lost tender, Business Report, April 2, 2007, http://www.busrep.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=563&fArticleId=3761315
[4] Keith Campbell, What went wrong with the Rooivalk?, Engineering News, June 8, 2007, http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/print_version.php?a_id=110041, accessed November 4, 2008.
[5] Rooivalk Client Programme, Department of the Rooivalk Programme Office, Rooivalk attack helicopter, a complete operational and technical description, Atlas Aviation, 1995, p1-1. 
[6] Roy Braybrook, Whirly Stingers: Not cheap, but nasty, armada INTERNATIONAL, 6/2005, December 2005/January 2006, p32.
[7] The issue was discussed in the South African Parliament in August 2005, where MPs noted that the helicopter’s development was being delayed by the restructuring of its primary contractor, Denel, and the recruiting of and retaining of skilled personnel staff at Denel and the SA Air Force. See Leon Engelbrecht, Rooivalk Crash Illustrates Programme Difficulties, Defence Systems Daily, August 5, 2005, www.defence-data.com, accessed August 6, 2005.
[8] Roger Makings, SAAF to fly the Rooivalk, Business Times, October 30, 1993.
[9] Khulu Phasiwe, Rooivalk is Turkish delight for Denel, Business Day, July 4, 2006, http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/topstories.aspx?ID=BD4A226454
[10] Linda Ensor, Denel gets R8bn shot in the arm, ditches Rooivalk, May 18, 2007, http://www.businessday.co.za/Articles/TarkArticle.aspx?ID=2779055.