AFRICANGLOBE – Denel is in discussions with various government departments including the South African Air Force (SAAF) on upgrading the Rooivalk combat helicopter and developing a next generation Rooivalk Mk 2, which is being marketed to potential foreign clients.
Denel revealed plans for the next generation Rooivalk during a demonstration event at the Denel Overberg Test Range (DOTR) in the Western Cape earlier this month, during which the Rooivalk fired two Mokopa precision guided missiles as part of ongoing qualification testing.
Mike Kgobe, CEO of Denel Aviation, told reporters that the demonstration was based on renewed interest expressed in the helicopter, especially following its performance with the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He said February’s demonstration was aimed at talking to the broader community about the Rooivalk, with interested countries present at the demonstration, including delegations from Poland and Nigeria. Poland is currently seeking new attack helicopters under its Kruk programme while Nigeria has an urgent operational requirement for attack helicopters to combat Boko Haram militants.
Egypt is also believed to be potentially interested, especially after the United States delayed the delivery of AH-64 Apache helicopters following the military’s removal of Mohammed Morsi from power. Although Egypt recently ordered 46 Ka-52K helicopters from Russia, these are earmarked for its Mistral class vessels and the country still requires land-based attack helicopters.
“Denel is open to partnership possibilities regarding the Rooivalk and we are open to discussing these capabilities,” Kgobe said.
Denel officials said that international interest in the programme was revitalised with the support of the South African government and the successful deployment of the system in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Discussions are continuing with the SAAF for the enhancement of the Rooivalk,” Denel said, adding that the present Mk 1 will require a midlife upgrade within the next five years as a result of known obsolescence afflicting the current baseline.
Kgobe said that Denel has developed a roadmap for the Rooivalk including a future upgrade. A phased programme will consist of using the present Mk 1 Rooivalk design, addressing obsolescence, introducing new modern avionics, updating the weapon system and increasing reproducibility. The next generation Rooivalk will feature better sights, improved firepower, greater payload and better survivability amongst other improvements, he said. The airframe and engines are still deemed satisfactory and would not be changed in a future upgrade.
“Denel Aviation is interested in seeking partners and clients in the development of a new generation Rooivalk…In this process, significant opportunities exist for technology transfer as well as production and MRO participation. In order to exploit the intellectual property vested in Rooivalk at an economically feasible level a broad client base would be required,” Denel said.
“Through a joint venture programme of industrial participation and transfer of intellectual property, an indigenous attack helicopter production, support and upgrade/modification capability can be established.”
Jan Wessels, Denel Group COO, said that Rooivalk production is “inevitable” and called on potential partners to join in the programme. Funding has been made available from Denel Aviation to proceed with upgrading the Rooivalk and the company has brought back the Rooivalk jigs in anticipation of producing the Mk 2.
Denel estimated that it would take only four years to put the Rooivalk Mk 2 into service, including the development of prototypes, establishment of production, and production and assembly for launch customers.
Rooivalk 679, one of 12 Rooivalks delivered to the South African Air Force, was damaged in a hard-landing and at the time deemed uneconomical to repair – its tail boom broke off and the cannon was destroyed, although the crew survived without serious injury. It was subsequently stripped of usable parts and resides at Denel Aviation’s facilities. The company wants to rebuild it, but it still has to be formally transferred by the SAAF.
When promoting the Rooivalk to potential foreign clients, Denel emphasised the importance of eliminating OEM (original equipment manufacturer) restrictions and controlling intellectual property, noting that the Rooivalk’s intellectual property is vested in Denel Aviation. However, the main gearbox and main and tail rotor system (the dynamic components) are based on the Airbus Helicopters Super Puma/Oryx. Hugh Petersen, Executive Manager: Business Development at Denel Aviation, told reporters that as Airbus Helicopters owns the intellectual property on the dynamic components so Denel has been in talks with them on the supply of these items.
As part of the revitalised Rooivalk programme, Denel is moving forward with certifying the Mokopa missile on the aircraft. Denel Dynamics surface targets group manager Petrus Mentz said that Denel is busy with Mokopa type certification aboard the Rooivalk and will have to do nine firings before this is achieved – two missiles were fired in 2011, and another two during the Rooivalk demonstration on 3 and 4 February.
The first firing involved the Rooivalk successfully firing the missile at a target that was laser designated from the ground. The second firing the following day was not quite as smooth – the target was laser designated by a Gripen flying overhead. The Rooivalk launched the missile at a range of 8 km, which followed the laser beam from the Gripen, but narrowly missed the target.
The 2011 tests used telemetry missiles, but 2016’s firings were designed to evaluate trajectory and penetration and long range capability in conjunction with an airborne remote designator. The 10 km range Mokopa has a dual anti-tank warhead able to penetrate 1 350 mm of armour, although Denel has developed a high explosive penetrator warhead for anti-shipping and other missions.
At the Denel Overberg Test Range Denel also displayed the Rooivalk with a Denel Dynamics A-Darter air-to-air missile mounted on a stub wing. Denel officials said they were looking at the possibility of incorporating the missile into the Rooivalk and emphasised that this is an ongoing programme which has just started. It is possible to integrate the Mistral air-to-air missile on the Rooivalk.
At the moment the Rooivalk is just fitted with 70 mm Forges Zeebrugge (FZ) rockets, which have a range of nine kilometres, and a 20 mm cannon. However, late last year a FZ laser guided rocket was test fired from the Rooivalk, giving accuracy of less than a metre from the target centre at 4-5 km. For the test, FZ used its own designator.
The Rooivalk’s 20 mm F2 cannon has an effective range of 2 km. As it was adapted from the cannon used on the Ratel infantry fighting vehicle, it can use the Ratel’s barrel. This weapon was selected for ease of logistics. However, problems were encountered with the weapon – the shockwave would disturb the sight mirrors, but this problem was fixed in the 1F upgrade process. The Rooivalk boasts a versatile armaments and stores configuration which includes 20 mm Cannon, 8/16 long range precision guided missiles, 2/4 air-air missiles, 38/76 70 mm Rockets and 1/2 external fuel tanks.
In 2004 the requirement for an upgraded baseline Rooivalk was established. In 2007 the government allocated R963 million until 2011 to get the Rooivalk fully operational. As part of this process, nearly 140 modifications were made to each aircraft, with attention being focused on the cannon and self-protection, targeting and communications systems and gearboxes to make them more accurate and reliable. A subsequent addition was drop tanks for long range deployments.
The helicopter was subsequently upgraded in Blocks 1A, 1B etc. through to Block 1F, and is now simply called Rooivalk Mk 1. The first six Rooivalk Block 1F, or Mark 1, helicopters were officially handed over to the SAAF in April 2011, together with the aircraft’s full military type certificate. The remaining five aircraft had all entered service by March 2013.
The aircraft was subsequently deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the beginning of November 2013 in support of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade comprising South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi, and tasked with rooting out the 20 plus rebel groups in the DRC. Several days after the three Rooivalks, now painted white, arrived in the DRC, they engaged in their first ever combat mission. The following day, the M23 group called an end to its 20-month rebellion, saying it would disarm and pursue peace talks. “We believe M23 had to retreat because of the Rooivalk,” South African defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said after the rebels’ defeat.
Following the positive performance of the helicopter in action, Mapisa-Nqakula called for production of the Rooivalk to resume. Speaking after a briefing on South African peace support mission involvement in March 2014, the minister said that Denel Aviation had to be pushed to restart production. “We have to assist them in whatever way to manufacture more because… everybody now wants a Rooivalk and they want a Rooivalk from South Africa…wherever you go right now people are talking about the Rooivalk and people would want to order the Rooivalk…so our defence industry must be beefed up, must be assisted as we have been doing.”
By: Guy Martin