Rooivalk’s single sortie success


Earlier this month South Africa’s home-grown combat support helicopter – the Rooivalk – came through its baptism of fire admirably and unscathed as part of the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC.

This was a proud moment for not only 16 Squadron, the SA Air Force (SAAF) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) but also those engineers whose vision to develop and manufacture a South African gunship close on 30 years ago were more than justified by the first combat sortie. Reports from the eastern DRC have it that UN management was “impressed” with both the performance of the Rooivalk as well as the support provided to keep the rotorcraft airborne and operational.

This was echoed by a SAAF brigadier general who told a SAAF Association function “the air force is incredibly proud of what Rooivalk and its air and ground crews have done”.

Taken in conjunction with another outstanding example of military prowess in the same part of the continent, it is hard to understand why the SANDF has not made more of what it can do in combat. In fact, the communications machine at SANDF headquarters has still not issued a single statement on either the reported more than 2 000 metre kill by a South African sniper in August or the single sortie success of the two Rooivalks.

Both these have been the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of comments on various South African military and military aviation forums. By and large the men and the equipment they used – in both instances 100% Proudly South African – have been fulsomely praised with only a few adverse comments.

These comments have gone on about the need to keep specific weapons and equipment information out of the public domain so as not to forewarn the enemy – the M23 in the DRC. Others have been more forthright saying the super sniper shot and the Rooivalk sortie should be used for propaganda.

There are pros and cons to both sides but when a defence force is almost continually on the receiving end of poor press, with a resultant drop in morale, both these incidents, if properly used by military media officers, would have boosted all men and women in uniform. At the same time South Africans who do not generally take an interest in military matters would also have had a reason to push out their chests and be proud of the SANDF.