Exclusive: Rooivalk is going to DRC

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Three of the South African Air Force’s Rooivalk combat support helicopters will be in the DRC before year-end to boost MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in executing its offensive mandate in the aircraft’s first ever combat deployment.

Captain (SAN) Zamo Sithole, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations media liaison officer, confirmed to defenceWeb that three of 16 Squadron’s 11 combat helicopters would join up with the aviation unit of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).
“The aircraft will be deployed before year-end and will have full SA Air Force (SAAF) ground support and technical staff,” he said.

He did not give an indication of how long the deployment would last or whether aircrews and support staff would be rotated or whether the aircraft themselves would be rotated for the duration of the FIB mandate, which has been set at a year after its establishment was authorised by the UN Security Council in March.

There was also no indication of what armament the home-grown attack helicopter would be carrying on missions on the strife-torn eastern part of the DRC. Military aviation watchers say the Rooivalk will not be carrying Mokopa or other anti-tank missiles on its hard points but will carry up to 76 70 mm rockets in four underwing pods and 700 rounds for the 20 mm F2 nose cannon.

Earlier this week photos emerged of a Rooivalk at AFB Bloemspruit, home of 16 Squadron, painted in white United Nations colours ahead of the deployment.

In August South African National Defence Force Joint Operations Chief Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi said that the UN as the co-ordinator of the FIB had been made fully aware of the capabilities of the Rooivalk. “We have told them what the rate for the Rooivalk is and a decision on whether or not it will go to the DRC rests solely with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.”

Now that the UN has authorised the Rooivalk deployment, it marks the type’s first ever combat deployment for an aircraft that started out life as a tank-buster for the Border War in the 1980s.