The home-grown South African Rooialk combat support helicopter has gained more than its fair share of admirers during its first continental deployment but the number of hours logged on missions continues to decrease and its return home appears to be imminent.
In February it was reported the contingent of three Rooivalks from 16 Squadron at AFB Bloemspruit would be coming back to South Africa towards mid-year. This is believed to be at the request of the United Nations, which is busy with a major cost-cutting drive throughout its peace support and peacekeeping missions worldwide.
The recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by South African parliamentarians as part of their oversight duty provided more insight into the operations of the SA Air Force (SAAF) composite helicopter unit (CHU).
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, one of the group who went to DRC, said they were given figures of flying hours for the five Oryx and three Rooivalk helicopters stationed there.
“For the Rooivalk there were 80 flying hours logged in November, rising to 88 in December but from there on it has been less and less.”
In January, Rooivalks logged 35 hours and this dropped by more than half to 16 hours in February. These figures are the latest available given to the Parliamentary group.
For the workhorse Oryx, December was the busiest month with 212 hours logged, up substantially on the 131 recorded in November. Since then it has been going down with a big drop to 113 hours in January and 111 hours in February.
According to Marais, the CHU’s taskings include cargo handling, trooping, self-protection, night vision guidance, casevac and medivac as well as observation and surveillance.
“They also supply armed air escorts, fire support, search and rescue and extraction operations. The unit is on standby 24/7 and boasts a reaction time of 45 minutes.”
Decreases in flying hours are, according to Marais “mostly due to non-availability of spares, long turnaround times and that some parts and services have to be procured abroad”.
He said further that CHU personnel were of the opinion many problems could be eliminated if there was a logistics system in place to properly support operational requirements.
“Given that problems are encountered with spares, ammunition, helicopter crews and others it has a wide impact on operational readiness. The delegation was assured the CHU is doing its best with the available resources and has to date successfully executed all allocated tasks,” Marais said.