Combat Debut for Rooivalk

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Rooivalk firing rockets on firing demonstration.
One of three Rooivalh helicopters painted white for the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was seen at SAAF AFB Bloemspruit, home to the SA Air Force’s 16 Squadron, which operates 11 Rooivalks. Photo via Defenseweb.
One of three Rooivalh helicopters painted white for the mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was seen at SAAF AFB Bloemspruit, home to the SA Air Force’s 16 Squadron, which operates 11 Rooivalks. Photo via Defenseweb.

The South African Denel DH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter made its combat debut on Monday 4 November, 2013 while conducting armed overwatch and close air support flights of UN personnel in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South African media has reported. The SAAF deployed three Rooivalk helicopters to the DRC in late October, clearing them to begin operations on the day that this first contact took place. This is the first time Rooivalk helicopters have engaged in combat since the prototype’s first flight 23 years ago. Another South African news outlet, DefenceWeb, reported that the Rooivalks had conducted their offensive operations against M23 positions in partnership with a pair of Mil Mi-24/35 ‘Hind’ helicopters of the FIB. The report was not clear on who was operating these Hinds, but India and Ukraine are known to have contributed such helicopters to MONUSCO – the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo.

Rooivalk firing rockets on firing demonstration.
Rooivalk firing rockets on firing demonstration.

Two South African Air Force (SAAF) Rooivalks fired multiple 70 mm rocket salvos against M23 rebel bunkers close to the Rwandan border, while operating on behalf of the MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). According to the South African website African Defence Review, early reports from sources in the area indicate that the action was successful, with the Rooivalks’ tactical approach through the clouds taking the M23 defenders by surprise and their rocket fire being accurate enough to disperse them and destroy one of the 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns that had been previously used to fire at the Rooivalks and other helicopters.

The attack was combined with a renewed FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) assault and subsequent claims by the DRC government that the remaining M23 senior commanders have now fled across the border into Rwanda. However this could not be independently verified. Established in November 1999 to monitor and keep the peace in the DRC, MONUSCO currently comprises some 20,688 military and police personnel from 56 countries. According to UN figures, 61 MONUSCO personnel have been killed since the mission began.