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Denel Aviation will undertake study for developing Rooivalk Mk2
September 21, 2019

Denel Aviation will undertake study for developing Rooivalk Mk2

In its annual report for 2016, Denel Group stated that it “has been commissioned to do an obsolescence and supportability study to inform both the upgrade of the current Rooivalk Mk1F baseline and future development of a Rooivalk Mk2 for both local and export markets.”

Discussions are underway between Denel Group and the South African Air Force (SAAF) and Department of Defence (DoD). If successfully brought into the development stage, the Rooivalk Mk2 would stand as the flagship program for the South African defence industry.

Notes & Comments:

Denel Group is pursuing the Rooivalk Mk2 program in response to increasing interest from abroad in the attack helicopter, especially since its deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). In the DRC, the Rooivalk conducted intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance missions, particularly in high-threat areas.

While the Rooivalk Mk2 will retain the airframe and engines of the Rooivalk Mk1, it will feature a new electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensor as well as enhanced payload and survivability (Defence Web).

The Rooivalk platform is powered by two Turbomeca (Safran) Makila 1K2 turboshaft engines – the same engine type is shared by the Airbus Helicopters H215 Super Puma transport helicopter. The Rooivalk’s main gearbox and main and tail rotor systems are also from the Airbus H215.

While there were problems in securing the core components from Eurocopter for export purposes in the past (which had pushed its Tiger platform in the same markets Denel was pursuing with the Rooivalk), Denel seems to be making progress with Eurocopter’s successor Airbus Helicopters on this front. At the 2016 Africa Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (AAD), Denel Aviation and Airbus Helicopters signed a memorandum-of-understanding (MoU) to collaborate on modernizing the SANDF’s Rooivalk Mk1 fleet.

At AAD 2016, South Africa’s Secretary of Defence noted that Denel would be looking at producing “about 60” Rooivalk Mk2s. This may be the number required to make the Rooivalk Mk2’s development feasible, and Denel appears to be aiming to secure major export customers. As incentive, Denel is pitching transfer-of-technology for local production and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) to prospective buyers.

Regarding technology transfers, Denel said (via Defence Web):

“Denel Aviation is interested in seeking partners and clients in the development of a new generation Rooivalk…In this process, significant opportunities exist for technology transfer as well as production and MRO participation.”

“Through a joint venture programme of industrial participation and transfer of intellectual property, an indigenous attack helicopter production, support and upgrade/modification capability can be established.”

Although the attack helicopter market has grown in terms of suppliers, the Rooivalk platform is in the less saturated space of heavyweight platforms. Today, only two countries offer heavyweight attack helicopters – the U.S. (AH-64) and Russia (Mi-28NE and Ka-52). Denel’s decision to retain the airframe and engine will help in controlling cost; commonality with the affordable Super Puma should be beneficial in terms of cost as well, especially since the Super Puma (and Makila) benefit from scale and global adoption.

Denel’s main challenge will likely stem from securing a launch buyer and funding partner, especially one that can provide a large order to anchor the program. Many prospective users (e.g. India, Algeria, Egypt, etc) have gone on to adopt the AH-64, Mi-28NE or Ka-52.

In March, the South African government signed a defence MoU – “Defence and Defence Industrial Cooperation” – with Pakistan. On the back of this MoU, Denel could potentially try aiming at Pakistan Army’s ongoing attack helicopter program. However, to elicit meaningful interest Denel would have to strongly emphasize flexible transfer-of-technology (for MRO, co-production, access for configuring and arming the platform at-will, etc) and use of readily available and tested core components, such as Safran turboshaft engines and Airbus Helicopters dynamic components.