SAAF develops hi-tech missile


The South African Air Force invests R292 million in a missile to arm the Rooivalk attack helicopter.The South African Air Force (SAAF) is investing R292 million in completing the development of an anti-tank guided missile to arm its controversial Rooivalk attack helicopter.

The Rooivalk project has been under way since 1984 and has so far cost about R8 billion. It is unclear if the millions being invested in the Mokopa missile is part of that amount or whether it is ‘new` money.

The Mokopa is being developed as part of Project Impose, the overall Rooivalk development programme. The missile is a “fire-and-forget” weapon that, on allocating a target, uses its internal processing power and sensors to guide itself to intercept.

The first air-launched tests from a Rooivalk helicopter took place in 1999, with the first guided tests following in 2000. The missile manufacturer, Denel, says the missile is accurate to a point within 30cm of the aiming spot from a distance of 10km.

Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota has told Parliament the SAAF has to date spent R120 million on the missile`s development. Another R4.6 million is being spent on the missile this year. A further R98.25 million is expected to be spent on turning the missile into an operational tool. The SAAF has also banked R70 million to buy the missile when development is completed in July 2009.

Almost ready

Lekota also told MPs in a written answer to questions that the Rooivalk will be classified partially operational in May next year. Development is expected to wrap up in 2009. The aircraft, once a technological marvel, has had a troubled life. Lekota conceded that “progress on the Rooivalk programme appears to be hampered by problems at Denel”.

The parastatal has posted losses for the past several years and has reported severe skills shortages in many key areas.

Some of the development work on the helicopter includes upgrades and life-extension programmes.

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