Plans to build an upgraded Mk2 Rooivalk combat support helicopter look promising according to Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube.
Speaking ahead of the opening of the Africa, Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof today (Tuesday) he said discussions and negotiations were ongoing with potential African partners to both contribute to actual manufacture of Rooivalk Mk 2 and potential users.
“We are looking at about 60 or so aircraft to be used by African air forces as well as their possible sale to BRICS partners, Brazil and India.”
Denel first revealed plans for the next generation Rooivalk combat support helicopter during a demonstration event at the Denel Overberg Test Range (DOTR) in the Western Cape in February, when Rooivalk fired two Mokopa precision guided missiles as part of ongoing qualification testing.
At that time Denel Aviation chief executive, Mike Kgobe, said the demonstration was based on renewed interest in the South African designed and built helicopter. This came on the heels of its performance with the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Representatives from Nigeria and Poland attend the DOTR demonstration. The African country reportedly has an urgent operational requirement for attack helicopters to combat Boko Haram. Egypt is also believed to be interested in the South African rotary-winged aircraft.
The Rooivalk deployment to MONUSCO in the DRC has been termed the “blue-eyed boy” of the mission, Lieutenant colonel Danie Bellingan, the Officer Commanding 16 Squadron, told an Aeronautical Society of South Africa briefing in July.
The average Rooivalk mission in DRC lasts around two hours, with aircraft typically being armed with 550 cannon rounds (high explosive and armour piercing incendiary) and 20 rockets. Bellingan said Rooivalk typically does three passes on target, firing salvoes of four rockets while shifting aim across the target zone. Due to the thick jungle in the DRC, climbing and diving steeply is best to penetrate the foliage. The 70 mm FZ rockets have an eight kilometre range, but they are usually fired from between 1,5 and 4 km away.
Around 80% of Rooivalk missions in the DRC are intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), especially reconnaissance of high threat areas where UN aircraft were previously reluctant to operate. Other common missions for the Rooivalk are convoy escort and aircraft escort – Belligan said convoys are never attacked when they are escorted by Rooivalk.
Gulube did not give any indication of an agreement being signed, either to assist in manufacture or for purchase, during AAD.
Restarting the Rooivalk attack helicopter production line will require a minimum launch order of 75 aircraft, according to Denel executives.
Zwelakhe Ntshepe, Acting CEO of Denel Group, said that the development of a new Rooivalk Mk 2 would require an order of 75 aircraft and that Denel is talking to African, South American and Middle Eastern countries on this. He said it was important for Denel to work with the Department of Defence and Military Command Council on this.
In the meantime, Denel is pushing ahead with upgrading the 11 Rooivalks in service with the South African Air Force. Ntshepe said the Rooivalk Mk 1.1 upgrade had been approved and Denel was busy talking to the Air Force on what improvements they want in the aircraft.
Malusi Shezi, Programme Manager: Rooivalk at Denel Aviation, told defenceWeb that the company is seeking to use one of the South African Air Force’s crashed examples and one of the three prototypes as a basis for Rooivalk upgrades.
Earlier this year Denel said the present Rooivalk Mk 1 will require a midlife upgrade within the next five years as a result of known obsolescence afflicting the current baseline. Upgrades would focus on the sighting system, firepower, improved payload, and better survivability amongst other improvements. The cannon requires some work as not all the reliability issues were fixed with the Mk 1 upgrade. Shezi said some of the problems emerged during rigorous combat use in the Democratic Republic of Congo but that solutions were there for the issues, which according to a South African Air Force pilot include jams, broken springs, poor welds, solenoid and other issues.