Denel sees a future for the Rooivalk combat helicopter and is engaging with the Department of Defence and Armscor on the future production of the aircraft, according to Denel Group CEO Riaz Saloojee.
Saloojee was speaking during the presentation of Denel’s annual financial results on Friday. “Given the capabilities of this aircraft…there will be a future for this platform,” he said. Denel has acknowledged the “excellent performance of the Rooivalk combat support helicopter during deployment as part of peace support operations in Africa,” where it “made a significant impact on the peace enforcement in the region.”
“The successful deployment of the Rooivalk combat helicopter in active service by the SANDF [South African National Defence Force] in support of peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo has focused global attention on the extent and depth of Denel’s capabilities in a highly competitive technology environment,” Saloojee said.
As a result of its impressive performance, there have been calls to restart production. Saloojee said such discussions were at the embryonic stage and cautioned that there are “severe” technical and funding issues. Some of the issues most likely revolve around the departure of skilled personnel from the programme; the gearbox (which had to be reengineered to reduce vibration); the fact that drawings are on paper and the availability of jigs and other manufacturing equipment.
After building just 12 for the South African Air Force, Denel Aviation stopped marketing the Rooivalk in 2007 after failing to gain export contracts. However, Denel Aviation CEO Mike Kgobe has said that the production line could be re-established if enough aircraft are ordered – between 75 to 100 to make production economically viable.
South African Army Chief Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo last week said he would like to see the aircraft back in production. “Our involvement with the FIB [UN Force Intervention Brigade] and the deployment of the Rooivalk has proved to be a force multiplier and game changer. There has been a lot of interest and enquiries.” Masondo said that export contracts would minimise the costs of the aircraft for the SANDF due to economies of scale.
His comments echo those of defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula who, speaking after a briefing on South African peace support mission involvement in March this year, said that Denel Aviation had to be pushed to restart production. “We have to assist them in whatever way to manufacture more because… everybody now wants a Rooivalk and they want a Rooivalk from South Africa…wherever you go right now people are talking about the Rooivalk and people would want to order the Rooivalk…so our defence industry must be beefed up, must be assisted.”
After major upgrades to its various systems, such as weapons and sights and its troublesome gearbox, the Rooivalk was awarded its full military type certificate in April 2011. Three Rooivalks painted in white were deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (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 in the DRC, 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.
Rooivalks have subsequently been involved in over a dozen combat engagements against various armed groups in the DRC, such as the Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
General Carols Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, commander of UN forces in the DRC, said the Rooivalk “performed very well as reinforcement to the mission and would be used in future missions. They are very good aircraft – very precise with very good technology. We need this kind of firepower for our missions.”
Saloojee added that the Rooivalk was just one indication of impressive South African technology. “The participation of South African forces in peace-keeping operations on the continent and the successful deployment of our products, such as the Rooivalk, our infantry rifles and our small- and medium calibre ammunition and our mine-protected vehicles have contributed to our growing reputation as an African defence company with the capacity to provide for African markets.”