Just on 30 years after development work started on a home-grown attack helicopter, South Africa’s Rooivalk seems set for its first operational deployment.
This is the inference drawn from a photograph circulating on social media of a Rooivalk with its customary camouflaged fuselage replaced by white paint. The photo was taken at AFB Bloemspruit, home to the SA Air Force’s 16 Squadron, which operates 11 Rooivalks.
The sighting of the white combat support helicopter comes after SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Chief Lieutenant General derrick Mgwebi in August said South Africa had no say in whether the Rooivalk would be deployed to support the UN Forward Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC.
“South Africa is a troop contributing country and it does not decide on what military assets will be utilised,” he told a media briefing in Thaba Tshwane.
“The UN as the co-ordinator of the FIB has been made fully aware of the capabilities of the Rooivalk and any decision on its deployment into the eastern DRC theatre has to be made by the world body. 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.
“Until a letter of assistance confirming the UN wants Rooivalk in the DRC is received, no aircraft from 16 Squadron will leave South Africa,” he said.
That at least one and possibly two of 16 Squadron’s inventory are now in UN white indicates the UN has taken a decision in favour of the rotary-winged aircraft that started life as a tank buster meant for use in the Border War.
At the time of publication no official confirmation of the Rooivalk DRC deployment had been received from the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) communications directorate.
Military aviation experts and enthusiasts were making use of chatrooms to spread the word, discussing possible armament and transport options to the eastern DRC.
On armament, aviation commentator Darren Olivier was of the opinion the Rooivalk will be equipped with the FZ 90 70 mm wraparound fin air rocket (WAFAR), carrying up to 76 in four underwing pods and 700 rounds of ammunition for the 20 mm F2 cannon. No Mokopa or other anti-tank missiles will be loaded “but the rockets and cannon are potent weapons,” he said.
Another chatroom poster said an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft was due in at OR Tambo International Airport late last night and wondered if it would pick up Rooivalks for the DRC.