After three decades of development and a development cost in excess of R8 billion, the South African designed and built Rooivalk attack helicopter has finally deployed operationally, and also fired its weapons in anger.
Three Rooivalk helicopters, belonging to 16 Squadron based at AFB Bloemspruit near Bloemfontein, were airlifted to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a week ago. They form part of the aviation unit of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi’s soldiers are all part of the United Nations (UN) intervention brigade to bring the various rebel groups operating in the east of the DRC, including the M23 rebels, under control.
According to an anonymous defenceWeb source, the aircraft arrived on Friday and were given clearance to conduct operations on Monday.
Darren Olivier, of African Defence Review, has reported that two SAAF Rooivalk helicopters flew the craft’s first ever combat mission yesterday afternoon at approximately 17h00 Congolese time. They fired multiple 70 mm rocket salvos against M23 bunkers near the mountainous Chanzu region, close to the Rwandan border.
defenceWeb’s anonymous source said the United Nations had requested helicopter support during an offensive in the Kabalo region against scattered M23 rebel positions. The Rooivalks were sent into action alongside a couple of Russia Mi-35 attack helicopters also with the UN mission. Operations concluded around 18h20 after one helicopter had fired 38 rockets and another 17 rockets. Apparently UN management is impressed with the performance of the South African rotorcraft.
Olivier notes that early reports from sources in the area indicate that the action was successful, with the Rooivalks’ tactical approach through the clouds taking the M23 defenders by surprise and their rocket fire being accurate enough to disperse them and destroy one of the 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns that had been previously used to fire at the Rooivalks and other helicopters.
The attack was combined with a renewed FARDC assault and subsequent claims by the DRC government that the remaining M23 senior commanders have now fled across the border into Rwanda. However this could not be independently verified.
The Rooivalk project started its design phase in 1984 and had its first flight in April 1990. The development and manufacturing programme only concluded in late 2012 when the eleventh and final airframe upgraded to the “Block 1F” deployment baseline standard was redelivered to the Air Force.