Within the next 18 months Denel will have a clear idea of whether it will restart Rooivalk production as it talks to possible partner nations/clients and engages with the Department of Defence. Both the South African and foreign militaries have expressed interest in restarting production.
Riaz Saloojee, Denel Group CEO pointed out to defenceWeb that defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is on record saying that the Rooivalk needs to be re-established as a strategic sovereign capability for use in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Saloojee told defenceWeb that Denel is establishing a roadmap for the Rooivalk which will include an upgrade of the current Rooivalk Mk 1 baseline that will form the building blocks to a Rooivalk Mk 2 variant which would be a new capability Rooivalk for both the SAAF and potential export market. This involves examining the feasibility of restarting production, looking at technology improvements and finding partners. He said that is will be “essential” to find an international partner and that Denel is in discussion with a number of countries in this regard.
The Group CEO said that Denel will in the next 18 months “have a very clear view” with who it will partner with and will also have a government decision on going ahead with the programme.
Saloojee’s comments follow on from those made in August last year when he said that, “Given the capabilities of this aircraft…there will be a future for this platform.” Denel has acknowledged the “excellent performance of the Rooivalk combat support helicopter during deployment as part of peace support operations in Africa,” where it “made a significant impact on the peace enforcement in the region.”
“The successful deployment of the Rooivalk combat helicopter in active service by the SANDF [South African National Defence Force] in support of peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo has focused global attention on the extent and depth of Denel’s capabilities in a highly competitive technology environment,” Saloojee said.
However, as with any complex programme, there are technical and funding issues that will have to be addressed like ensuring sufficient technical skills for a programme of such magnitude and establishment of industrial partnerships for critical sub-systems together with the re-establishment of manufacturing and production processes including specialised jigs and other special equipment.
After manufacture of three prototype aircraft (which were the experimental development model or XDM, engineering development model or EDM and the advanced development model or ADM), and 12 production aircraft, 11 aircraft are in service with the South African Air Force (one was written off after a crash). Denel Aviation stopped marketing the Rooivalk in 2007 after failing to gain export contracts. However, Denel Aviation CEO Mike Kgobe has said that it is possible to re-establish the production line provided a minimum order quantity, estimated at between 75-100, is achieved to make the programme economically viable.
South African Army Chief Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo is also on record saying he would like to see the Rooivalk back in production. “Our involvement with the FIB [UN Force Intervention Brigade] and the deployment of the Rooivalk has proved to be a force multiplier and game changer. There has been a lot of interest and enquiries.” Masondo said that export contracts would minimise the costs of the aircraft for the SANDF due to economies of scale.
After retrofitting the current Rooivalk Mk 1 to a standard baseline (or the so called Mk 1F baseline), the Rooivalk was awarded a full military type certificate in April 2011 by the Military Airworthiness Board. Modifications were made to various systems, such as weapons and sights and its troublesome gearbox. Some of the aircraft were painted white and were deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the beginning of November 2013 in support of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) comprising South African, Tanzanian and Malawian forces.
Several days after they arrived in the DRC, they engaged in their first ever combat mission, against M23 rebels, using 70 mm rockets and 20 mm cannon. 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,” Mapisa-Nqakula said at the time.
The UN also praised the helicopter – General Carols Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, commander of UN forces in the DRC, said the Rooivalk “performed very well as reinforcement to the mission and would be used in future missions. They are very good aircraft – very precise with very good technology. We need this kind of firepower for our missions.”