The last of eleven upgraded Rooivalk attack helicopters will be delivered to the South African Air Force at the end of August, while two will be delivered at the end of this month.
Denel today said that two more Rooivalks were recently handed over to the South African Air Force (SAAF), bringing the total of upgraded combat support helicopters that can be operationally deployed to eight.
Mike Kgobe, CEO of Denel Aviation, said all the delivered aircraft have been upgraded to the required deployment baseline as determined by Cabinet.
Kgobe said that Denel Aviation was receiving excellent feedback from the SAAF, especially from 16 Squadron at Air Force Base Bloemspruit, where the first batch of helicopters has now been flying continuously for more than a year.
The aircraft have already been deployed in joint military exercises conducted by the SANDF and have proven their value in a combat support role, the company said in a statement. On May 10 Rooivalks took part in the SAAF’s biennial Air Capability Demonstration, which was followed shortly after by Exercise Savannah Thunder, a combat search and rescue and humanitarian support exercise. “The Rooivalk is flying on a daily basis and both Denel Aviation and the SAAF are very satisfied with its performance,” said Kgobe.
At the Air Force Day Parade earlier this year, the Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant Gen Carlo Gagiano said the Rooivalk “is a system we cannot be without.” If the Air Force is called on to perform peace-keeping operations the Rooivalk is “the first aircraft I would send,” he said.
“This is a product that the South African public can be proud of – locally designed, locally manufactured and already successfully deployed by the Air force,” said Kgobe.
Dewald Steyn, the project manager: Rooivalk, at Denel Aviation said the performance of the aircraft is being closely monitored and evaluated from a design and development perspective. According to Denel, the helicopter has exceeded expectations and no major maintenance or repair work has thus far been required
As design authority and original equipment manufacturer Denel Aviation is responsible to ensure that the Rooivalk remains fully operational throughout its assigned life. The company is continuing with the upgrading of the final three of the 11 aircraft in the Rooivalk fleet. At the same time design and development work has already started on upgraded versions of the helicopter – as part of the company’s “post-1F programme.”
The objective is to fit the Rooivalk with extended and long-range fuel tanks that will significantly increase its range of operations enabling the SAAF to deploy the helicopter over longer distances, said Steyn.
The first six Rooivalk Mk 1F helicopters were ceremonially handed over the Air Force on April 1 last year after 130 modifications to each aircraft. A major feature of the work is upgrading the sighting system on the Rooivalk for improved reliability.
The upgrade programme includes the significant remanufacturing of certain gearbox mounting components that were found to be out of specification on a number of aircraft and had caused problems in the past.
The troublesome F2 20mm cannon has also reportedly been cured of overheating and reliability problems. Although the Rooivalk is cleared to carry the Denel Dyamics Mokopa precision-guided missile, the SAAF has yet to buy any of the missiles and for the moment the attack helicopter is armed with a chin-mounted 20 mm turreted cannon and under-wing pods firing Forge Zeebrugge 70 mm unguided rockets.
However, Rheinmetall Denel, which manufactures components for the Mokopa, says there are some development issues still being worked out on the missile but that it is very confident of an order at some stage in the future.
Although the Rooivalks could fly before the upgrades, they were not truly operational and could not be deployed, for example, to support United Nations peacekeeping operations.
The Rooivalk project started its design phase in 1984 and had its first flight in April 1990. A dozen were manufactured for the Air Force, but one was written off in a crash several years ago.