in Defence

First blood for South African combat helicopter

Posted 17 November 2013 · Add Comment

Some 34 years after its first flight, South Africa's Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter had its first combat deployment during late October. Observers have noticed at least two of the aircraft being prepared for their move to the Democratic Republic of Congo at Denel's OR Tambo International Airport facility.

It is believed three Rooivalks have been positioned to the Eastern DRC where they are tasked by the United Nation's Mission to support ground troops in their hostilities against M23 rebels close to Goma. The helicopters have formed an attack component of the UN's MONUSCO mission as part of the Force Intervention Brigade. The helicopters are flown by South African Air Force (SAAF) 16 Squadron, based at Air Force Base Bloemspruit.

Rooivalks have supplemented an existing detachment of Mi-35 Hind E helicopters from the Force Aérienne Congolaise. The South African aircraft have already been engaged in a successful rocket attack against an M23 unit, which included anti-aircraft guns that had been previously used against other UN helicopters.

A direct result of the border war between South Africa and Angolan-based forces, the Rooivalk has had a long service development period following a number of lost international sales opportunities. The aircraft has been displayed in Europe and the Middle East and was close to gaining an older from the Turkish and Malaysian Air Forces. 12 have been built although it's not known how many are currently operational. Based on the Eurocopter Oryx helicopter, already in service within the SAAF, the attack version makes extensive use of French-designed dynamic components, including a pair of Turbomeca Makila 1K2 engines producing 1,904 shaft horsepower each. Armament includes a single, 700-round 20mm canon aimed using a helmet-mounted sight. The helicopter also carries 70mm rockets and has been equipped to fire Denel's latest Mokopa anti-tank guided missiles.

Although reports of the action have been scarce, it is believed the Rooivalk's integrated navigation and weapons systems enabled it to begin their DRC attacks whilst under IMC conditions.

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