Denel Aeronautics and Aselsan have recently entered into an agreement to collaborate on the avionics modernization of the Rooivalk attack helicopter. This agreement follows a memorandum of understanding that was announced at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition last year.
On July 27, Denel signed a Certificate of Milestone Achievement with Aselsan, which outlines the workshare definition for the avionics modernization project. The two companies have identified specific areas of cooperation to potentially upgrade the helicopter, which is currently at the Block 1F baseline.
During the AAD exhibition in September 2022, Denel and Aselsan expressed their intention to integrate Aselsan’s MEROPS system onto the Rooivalk helicopter, and potentially onto the Seeker 400 unmanned aerial vehicle as well. A MEROPS gimbal was showcased alongside the Rooivalk in the static area of the exhibition.
As the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the Rooivalk, Denel Aeronautics serves as the helicopter’s Design Authority. The company has previously successfully integrated various avionics subsystems from multiple companies. As a proof-of-concept, Denel fitted a Hensoldt Optronics Argos II gimbal to the helicopter.
The Rooivalk helicopter, on which development began in 1984 under the former Atlas Aircraft Corporation, is also known as the Combat Support Helicopter (CSH) and is an attack helicopter designed, manufactured and supported by Denel Aeronautics.
Its name is Afrikaans for “Red Falcon”.
Denel’s interim Group Chief Executive Officer, Michael Kgobe, said Aselsan’s “expertise and capabilities make them the preferred technology partner for the South African Rooivalk modernisation programme and we are delighted that Aselsan continues to show commitment to our collaborative agreement, exceeding the objectives and scope of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in September 2022 within just six months.”
Aselsan is offering upgrades to the Rooivalk’s avionics system which would include an enhanced glass cockpit with larger screens, digital moving map, a new helmet-mounted display system and a modern flight management system. “These will be driven by two new mission computers that will control different aircraft management systems,” Denel said, along with a new weapon systems computer.
A new navigation system would incorporate an Inertial Navigation System (INS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) while a communication suite would be equipped with software-based V/UHF and HF radios, Mod-5/S capable identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder and a digital intercommunication system reports defenceWeb.
“The Rooivalk will be equipped with advanced targeting systems to engage ground targets effectively. This includes a long-range day/night sighting system, a thermal imaging sensor, low-light television, and a laser rangefinder/designator for accurate weapon delivery,” Denel said.
To enhance survivability, a modernised Rooivalk would integrate various defensive systems, including modern radar warning receivers (RWR), chaff and flare dispensers to counter incoming missiles, and infrared jammers to disrupt heat-seeking missiles.
“The advancements related to the modernisation of the attack helicopter are a key technology driver for the Denel Group and are poised as being a South African National Flagship programme, leveraging off institutional knowledge and public-private partnership for the advancement of national imperatives as well as the collective South African defence industry,” Denel said.
“The modernisation programme for the Rooivalk Combat Support Helicopter aims to enhance the operational capability and supportability of the existing fleet. This includes a strong emphasis on improving capability, reliability and addressing obsolescence issues. The Programme also considers changes in hardware and software, aligning with the requirements of the South African Air Force.”
The South African Air Force ordered 12 Rooivalks and the first entered into service in July 1999. Three Rooivalk were deployed to support the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in 2013 and have remained in the combat support role there ever since.
The helicopter has full glass, stepped tandem cockpits with an environmental control system. The cockpits for the pilot and weapon systems officer (WSO) are equipped with hands-on collective and stick controls.
Current avionics consist of a fully integrated, dual redundant MIL-STD 1553B-based avionics and weapons system. This provides total mission modes, target acquisition, flight control, health and use monitoring, communications, threat detection and control, flight and fuel, stores management and accurate navigation.
The Rooivalk’s self-defence suite is the fully integrated helicopter electronic warfare self-protection suite, incorporating radar warning, laser warning and countermeasures dispensing system.
Turkish company Aselsan has a subsidiary (Aselsan South Africa) based in Pretoria. The local branch serves as a centre of excellence for the mother company in Turkey and not only provides design and development capabilities, but also acts as the hub for Aselsan’s business development strategy in markets in sub-Saharan Africa and the establishment of long-term relationships.
The system is flight-line programmable and in-flight adaptable to match the threat library with the mission’s area of operation. A helmet-mounted sight display provides the pilot and WSO with a head-up display of information for nap-of-the-earth flight. It also allows the pilot, if required, to fire the cannon and rockets.
The helmet incorporates an integrated measurement system for directing an articulated weapon such as the cannon, or air-to-air missile seeker heads.
Aselsan SA has provided advanced camera systems to Denel’s OTR test range and other local customers, including the Institute of Maritime Technology, Paramount Technologies, and Reutech Radar Systems.
The advancements related to the modernisation of the attack helicopter are a key technology driver for the Denel Group and are poised to be a South African national flagship programme, leveraging off institutional knowledge and public-private partnership for the advancement of national imperatives as well as the collective South African defence industry.
Recently, it was revealed that major underfunding means that two of the most important helicopter types in the South African Air Force – the Oryx transport and Rooivalk attack helicopter – are largely grounded, with only a handful serviceable at present.
Of the 11 airframes in the Rooivalk fleet, only four are serviceable, with seven either unserviceable or undergoing maintenance, and of the 23 engines in the fleet, only 13 are serviceable.