Denel ROOIVALK (AH-2 / CSH-2)

South Africa had a long series of confrontations with its neighboring countries within the so-called South African Border, War and in them it has used utility and transport helicopters profusely. Due to this tactical need, in 1984 they decided to manufacture an indigenous attack helicopter that would meet their specific tactical needs. Furthermore, embargoes due to the apartheid policy, directly affected the import of certain weapons systems. In February 1985 a prototype built on the basis of an Aérospatiale Alouette III was presented, this was the “Atlas XH-1 Alpha” (on the image).
The new prototype featured a new cockpit with the pilot and gunner sitting in stepped tandem. It had a new landing gear and the installation of a 20mm Vektor GA-1 Rattler gun under the nose. This helicopter retained the Aérospatiale Alouette III‘s airframe, engine and several more components. The XH-1 Alpha (on the image) was subjected to very tough tests that were passed, showing that it was feasible for Atlas Aviation to make an attack helicopter with its own resources. However, none of the XH-1 components were used for the Rooivalk.
(X-1 Alpha image). At the beginning of the South African Border War the confrontations against armoured vehicles were quite infrequent, but in the last years of the war Angola had received Cuban and Soviet support, (through Cuba). Such support ranged from Kalashnikov rifles to tanks, perhaps not the latest models, but tanks nonetheless. This circumstance was decisive for the development of the Rooivalk.
Atlas Aircraft Corporation used as the basis of its design a model that had been manufactured by themselves previously, the Atlas Oryx (on the image). This helicopter was an improved version of the French Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma, developed and manufactured entirely in South Africa. From the Oryx, the dynamic systems and the powerplant were used, which were superior to those of the Puma. In addition, in this way the SAAF would save a lot in production and maintenance costs and logistics tasks would be facilitated.
(Rooivalk ADM image). The future helicopter was baptized as “Rooivalk“, (red kestrel), and the prototype was presented in February 1990. The constant delays significantly reduced the number of units ordered by the SAAF, because during the development, the Border War ended, and the need for an attack helicopter greatly decreased. Later the helicopter was designated as CSH-2 for “Combat Support Helicopter 2”.
(Rooivalk ADM image). Despite the monetary cuts and the declining interest, the development of the CSH-2 Rooivalk continued almost as a private adventure, and with the paradoxical situation that it was the South African Army that now viewed the arrival of the new helicopter with greater interest. After analyzing the situation, the Army came to the conclusion that Rooivalk would allow the reduction in the number of expensive battle tanks. Then, they decided to help with some funds that finally saved the Rooivalk‘s program.
In 1992 the prototype was further developed and was renamed XDM (experimental development model). Later, around 1996, a second prototype called ADM (advanced development model) was presented, and it was similar to the helicopter that would later enter service. This prototype carried two “Topaz” type engines which were the South African version of the French Turbomeca Trumo IV engines, but which would not be fitted to the standard Rooivalks.
The standard Rooivalk fuselage is completely new and some parts are made of composite materials. The engines have been installed on the sides of the fuselage, further back than on the Oryx model to improve the pilot’s field of vision. This new position forced the transmission to be redesigned. In addition, heat suppressors aimed directly at the rotor disk have been installed to minimize its infrared signature.
The landing gear is fixed, trailling arm type with a single wheel and has energy absorbers for normal descents of 3 m/s, although they support emergency landings of up to 10 m/s. A cable cutter has been installed in front of each leg, as well as above the cockpit.
(Rooivalk ADM image). In Rooivalk helicopter the pilot is sitting behind the gunner and both have 2 colour displays screens and a HUD. The cockpit is armoured and protects the crew of small fire arms and has armoured crashworthy seats made of ceramic material. The doors of both stations have an emergency opening system using explosive cords. The crew members wear a special suit that protects them from NBC contamination.
On the nose it has a gyro-stabilized turret that includes an automatic target detection and tracking system (TDATS), a TV camera, a laser rangefinder, a laser designator and a FLIR. Both crew members have a helmet mounted sight display (HMSD) that provides flight information and allows them to aim the 20mm gun and air-to-air missile seeker heads. In addition, the Rooivalk has a computerized fire control system and a mission control computer for each crew member.
This helicopter was specially designed to perform ultra-low altitude approaches or “nap of the earth flight”, which are carried out between 5 and 15 meters above the ground. For this, it has a ground-tracking Doppler radar and a GPS system. The electronic equipment is completed with a set of ECMs coupled to chaff and flare dispensers. It can also carry two external seats fixed to the fuselage to be able to pick up the crew of a downed helicopter or to transport two Special Forces operators if necessary.
Rooivalk has been created to carry out missions of close support, helicopter escort, ground convoy escort, reconnaissance and anti-tank fighting, always keeping in mind the special characteristics of the South African terrain. It can operate with little logistical support for long periods with just 5 or 6 ground personnel supported by another Oryx medium transport helicopter.
The fixed armament is composed by a 20mm dual feed gas operated gun F2 installed in the nose. This gun has a firing rate of 740 rounds per minute and carries 700 rounds in two ammunition bins. The ammunition is a high velocity type with a muzzle velocity of 1,100 m/s. In addition, the Rooivalk has 6 pylons under its wings for a maximum of 2,032 kg of weapons.
The carried armament usually consists of a mixture of rockets and missiles depending on the mission. Among the missiles are the wingtip mounted MBDA Mistral (air-to-air) and the Mokopa ZT-6 long range anti-tank guided missiles. Regarding rockets, they can use the 70mm FZ-90, FFAR (folding fin aerial rockets) and WA (wrap-around) types.
Finally, in January 1999 the SAAF received the first AH-2A Rooivalk, as it was officially designated. In total only 12 helicopters were ordered to equip the 16 Squadron, although the forecasts during its development were of 36 units. Delivery to SAAF has been similarly slow, with only 4 units per year and its full operation has also been quite complicated.
Denel (former Atlas) tried with an extensive marketing campaign to secure export contracts for the Rooivalk, as a way to amortize the huge investment made. It was invited to enter the competition for a “future generation attack helicopter” organized by the United Kingdom in 1994, and in 1998 a maritime attack version equipped with Exocet missiles was presented, in addition to being offered to many countries, but always with negative result.
Although of South African construction, it is true that much of the components of the Rooivalk are of French origin and this has clearly played against possible purchases. Furthermore, after the appearance of the Eurocopter Tiger, a direct rival in the market, the Airbus Helicopters company, of eminently French capital, hinted that the components for the Rooivalk “perhaps” would not be available in the near future, which ended up moving away to potential clients of the South African helicopter. Nor should we forget the political factor, since the US is known to have pressured different stakeholders in the Rooivalk to buy the AH-64 Apache instead, in a similar way to that suffered by the Brazilian Osorio main battle tank.
In 2011, a program to modernize and improve avionics and targetting systems was started to allow the use of guided missiles for the first time since their entry into service. In March 2013 the eleven Rooivalk, (one was lost in 2005 due to an accident), were already modernized to the “Block 1F” variant, 3 of them being deployed in a UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo in November of that same year.
Denel is keen to restart production for a new Rooivalk Mk.2, but would need at least 70 ordered units to make the operation feasible. Unfortunately, there are currently no orders, nor does it seem easy to have them in the near future despite the excellent capabilities and good price of this attack helicopter.

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