“Should the Rooivalk be withdrawn, the Force Intervention Brigade’s (FIB) morale and confidence will be negatively impacted on,” is one aspect of how Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula sees the home-grown combat support helicopter’s role in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Earlier this year it was reported the contingent of three Rooivalks from 16 Squadron at AFB Bloemspruit would be returning to South Africa towards mid-year. This is apparently at the request of the United Nations, which is currently busy with a cost-cutting drive across all it peace support and peacekeeping missions worldwide. Additionally, there are unconfirmed reports the capabilities of the Rooivalk are no longer needed with Ukrainian-supplied Mi-24s able to meet the demands of the FIB.
The Minister’s view on the first Rooivalk combat deployment is contained in response to a Parliamentary question posed by opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais.
“The Rooivalk helicopters are a resource dedicated for employment by the FIB. Should the helicopters be withdrawn, the ability to employ combat air support will no longer be directly available to South African forces. The Rooivalk is armoured and can withstand light weapons fire and is utilised to gather intelligence by making use of its sensors. The helicopter is able to interdict targets with a high rate of fire in dense jungle terrain ground forces are unable to reach.
“The Rooivalk is a force multiplier to the FIB and the risks associated (with its removal) are: reduced intelligence gathering capability, reduced firepower and the absence of an air interdiction capability will seriously reduce the combat potential of South African Forces to stabilise conflict affected areas in the DRC. Should the helicopter be withdrawn, the FIB’s morale and confidence will be impacted on negatively,” she said in a written response to Marais’ question.
Statements forwarded to the UN for reimbursement for the Rooivalk helicopter unit, part of the SA Air Force (SAAF) composite helicopter unit (CHU) deployed in the central African country, show it cost R568 430 216.70 to deploy and utilise the Rooivalk in the DRC between November 2013 and October 2016.
By far the largest cost contributor is flying hours at R425 161 560 with ammunition expended valuated at R142 303 244.75. The cost of painting the aircraft white as per standing instructions from the world body for equipment used by the UN was R965 412.
In January this year the three combat support helicopters logged 35 hours and this dropped by more than half to 16 hours in February. These figures are the latest available and were given to a delegation from Parliament’s defence oversight committee in the DRC recently. Last November Rooivalks logged 80 flying hours rising to 88 in December with use far lower this year.
There was, at the time of publication, no clarity yet on whether Rooivalk will remain in the DRC or come home. SA National Defence Force joint Operations DIvision Chief, Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo, visited UN headquarters in New York earlier this year as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation. The regional bloc was tasked with explaining its support and commitment to the MONUSCO FIB.