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Rooivalk CSH-2 Combat Support Helicopter

The South African-designed and manufactured Rooivalk attack helicopter comes equipped with air-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles and a rapid-fire 20mm automatic cannon. It carries a crew of two. In a police support role it could be used for intelligence gathering, surveillance, electronic soundwave jamming and as an airborne crane. The survivability of the Rooivalk is enhanced by design characteristics that include low detection signatures, high agility, damage tolerance, dual-redundant systems and airframe crashworthiness.

The helicopter is able to operate in the Nap-of-the-earth (NOE) environment, and can operate both at night and in adverse weather conditions from long stand-off ranges. The helmet, head-up display (HUD), and nose-mounted day/night stabilized sighting systems provide for fast, highly accurate designation and delivery of anti-tank missiles, air-to-ground rockets, cannon fire, and the ability to carry air-to-air missiles for self-defence. The turreted cannon, 2 x wing-tip and 4 x under-wing stores stations allow the Rooivalk considerable flexibility in weapons and external fuel loads.

The Rooivalk project started its design phase in 1984 and had its first flight in April 1990. It attracted world-wide attention for its unique design and capabilities and have been displayed at major international air shows in England, Dubai, Malaysia and Cape Town. In April 1997 an agreement was announed under which the Rooivalk attack helicopter would be marketed to the world's military forces under a joint co-operation agreement between Denel Aviation and the Franco-German Eurocopter group. Eurocopter produces a similar attack helicopter, the Tiger, but the Rooivalk is about 50% heavier. The Rooivalk was targeted to customers wishing to buy a heavy helicopter, while the Eurocopter Tiger would be sold to those with who require a smaller machine.

The first CSH-2 for the South African Air Force was deliverd at the end of 1998, with manufacture planned at four per year until 2001. In terms of the Armscor contract with Denel, the Rooivalk helicopters are delivered to the SAAF as they come off the production line. As of the end of FY2003/04, 11 of the 12 aircraft ordered had been delivered. These aircraft were, however, not fully developed, and are therefore delivered in a status where the aircraft cannot be used for operational purposes. The main purpose of the flying done on these aircraft is operational testing and evaluation, limited force preparation, and the development of tactics.

Development work on the Rooivalk system is continuing, and the aircraft already delivered, are continuously returned to Denel Aviation to be retrofitted as the development program progresses. The end of development was scheduled for 2008, at which point all aircraft will have received the required upgrades that will make it a fully operational and supportable system. An interim technical baseline was negotiated with Denel that will deliver a partially operational platform with restricted supportability by July 2005.

The original Rooivalk was designed as “an attack helicopter and tank killer” to meet the needs of South African Defence Force (SANDF) as it existed in the 1980s. The changing role of the SANDF, which is now primarily engaged in mandated peacekeeping missions, meant that aircraft systems had to be adapted to meet the new requirements effectively.

I 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. On 01 April 2011 the upgraded Rooivalk combat support helicopter has been handed over to the South African Air Force (SAAF) for operational duties. The helicopter, designed and manufactured in South Africa, was received by the Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano the Chief Executive Officer of Denel, Talib Sadik, said the handover is the culmination of 25 years of research, development and high-technology manufacturing. "This is a product that the entire South Africa can be proud of – locally designed, locally manufactured and, now, ready for deployment by our local Air Force," says Sadik.

The handover at the Denel Aviation campus in Kempton Park followed on a rigorous testing and evaluation program by the SAAF. The first five helicopters were operational at 16 Squadron, which is based in Bloemfontein. The remaining six will be completed and ready for deployment later in 2011. The upgraded Rooivalk Mark 1 has been tested at the Air Force’s Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) since the beginning of October 2010. The evaluation included day and night flight operations, target identification and tracking, cannon firing and evaluation of the secure communications modes and self-protection features.

The remaining five aircraft had all entered service by March 2013. Denel Aviation was responsible for the final modifications to the helicopter to improve its safety and reliability and accuracy of its weapons systems and to complete all outstanding certification flight testing to enable application for a full military type certificate at the Cabinet-agreed deployment baseline. During the retrofit program all 11 SAAF production Rooivalk aircraft were brought up to the Mark 1 standard. The program included the significant remanufacturing of certain gearbox mounting components that were found to be out of specification on a number of aircraft.

The evaluation included the testing on Rooivalk of the upgraded Mokopa anti-armour guided missile developed by Denel Dynamics. Live firing of the upgraded missile from Rooivalk was done in January this year at the Denel Overberg Test Range. The missile scored direct hits on targets, both at the long- and short range limits of the missile, demonstrating successful weapons carriage and release from the aircraft, missile target lock-on and missile flight characteristics. New external fuel tanks now increase the Rooivalk’s self-deployment range by 50%. Denel Saab Aerostructures assisted with detailed design of the tanks and is also responsible for manufacturing.

The upgrade program for the Rooivalk was completed on track and on schedule. Rooivalk contributed significantly to the ability of the SAAF to fulfil its mandate in peacekeeping operations and to support the future deployment of South African soldiers.

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.

The Rooivalk fleet available to the SANDF have performed exceptionally well in “hot-and-high” environments and in difficult operational circumstances. Its high cruise speed, exceptional climb rate and power to weight ratio offers confidence to troops and create doubts among opposing rebel forces. The world-class capabilities of systems such as the Rooivalk and the Mokopa have also strengthened the reputation of Denel which is now ranked among the world’s top 100 defence technology companies.

The successful deployment of the Rooivalk combat helicopter during peace-keeping operations in Africa focused international attention on the technological capabilities of the South African defense industry. The highly mobile helicopter – designed and manufactured by Denel SOC – turned the tide of hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when it was first deployed in support of the United Nations Intervention Brigade in November 2013. The Acting Group Chief Executive of Denel, Zwelakhe Ntshepe, said the Rooivalk is proof that South Africa is able to design and manufacture defence systems that are among the best in the world. Defence and aerospace products designed and manufactured by Denel are featured prominently at the Dubai Airshow exhibition in Dubai in November 2015.

The Rooivalk provided the winning edge for UN Forces that had been locked in battle with M23 guerrilla groups in the eastern part of the DRC. Within minutes of entering the combat zone it fired multiple rockets against rebel bunkers and destroyed the targets. The helicopter offers a protective shield to forces on the ground, providing them with unprecedented levels of support, defensive cover and reconnaissance capabilities. However, when required, the Rooivalk is a highly effective combat machine with the capability of engaging enemy forces in any weather conditions and in the most inhospitable terrains.

The current version of the Rooivalk, the Mk1F baseline was released for operational deployment in 2011 by Denel to the SANDF and Denel remains responsible for continued airworthiness and operational effectiveness of the aircraft as the original equipment manufacturer. Discussions are at an advanced stage with the Department of Defence and the SAAF regarding an upgrade to the current baseline that would also enhance operational effectiveness of the aircraft. Denel remains confident that this will logically lead to a next generation Rooivalk (or the Mk2 baseline) that will also be available for the export market.

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Page last modified: 18-09-2016 20:16:01 ZULU