Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2024-05-03

Rooivalk: Red Falcon with Lethal Upgrades

The Denel Rooivalk, previously known as AH-2 and CSH-2, is an attack helicopter crafted by Denel Aviation in South Africa. Rooivalk translates to “Red Falcon” in Afrikaans. Its development commenced in 1984 under the auspices of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation, with its design closely linked to the Atlas Oryx transport helicopter.  
 
The development of the Rooivalk faced challenges stemming from limited budgets in the 1990s, yet the goal remained steadfast: to create a cutting-edge attack helicopter. 
 
The South African Air Force (SAAF) placed an order for 12 Rooivalk units, designated as the Rooivalk Mk 1 in SAAF’s inventory. The first of these helicopters was officially delivered in April 2011 and are operated by 16 Squadron, stationed at AFB Bloemspruit near Bloemfontein.
Drawing from the SAAF’s extensive helicopter expertise in Africa’s rugged conditions, the Rooivalk was engineered to endure extended missions with minimal logistical support. Maintenance requirements are kept minimal, requiring only a medium transport helicopter equipped with basic spare parts and a ground crew of four to keep the Rooivalk operational.
 
Enhancement Evolution
The Mk 1 Block 1F version introduced enhancements aimed at improving safety, reliability, and weapon system accuracy. These upgrades involved significant refurbishment of gearbox mounting components, replacement of outdated electronics, and resolution of reliability issues associated with the 20-mm F2 cannon. 
 
The upgraded helicopter incorporates new Denel Saab Aerostructures external fuel tanks, boosting its self-deployment range by 50 per cent and facilitating integration with the Denel Mokopa air-to-ground missile. 
The Rooivalk is armed with a variety of weapons tailored to mission needs, including a nose-mounted 20mm cannon, air-to-air and anti-armour missiles, and unguided rockets. 
 
Equipped with a sophisticated fire control system, it boasts target acquisition and tracking capabilities alongside advanced navigation via Doppler radar and GPS. The helicopter is outfitted with an electronic countermeasures suite and chaff and flare dispensers.
It can perform loops, momentarily flying upside down. Its drop tank measures 3.45 metres long, 0.64 metres in diameter, and holds 550 litres of fuel. Weighing 51.5 kg empty and 496 kg full, the tank features a metal centre section with composite nose and tail sections, incorporating lightning protection for all-weather operations.
 
Cockpit Insights 
The Rooivalk features full glass, stepped tandem cockpits equipped with an environmental control system. Pilot and weapon systems officer (WSO) cockpits boast hands-on collective and stick (HOCAS) controls, complemented by a Thales Avionics Top Owl helmet-mounted sight display (HMSD). 
 
The HMSD provides both crewmembers with a head-up display for nap-of-the-earth (NOE) flight and low-level target engagement. The cockpits are outfitted with crashworthy seats and armour protection. Night vision goggles can be used in the cockpit.
 
Twin-Engine Design
The helicopter is powered by two turboshaft engines. Initially, it was designed to use the French Turbomeca Makila 1K2 engines. However, in later versions it was planned to be equipped with the more powerful LHTEC T800-4D turboshaft engines. The LHTEC T800-4D engine, a modernised iteration of the CTS800 family jointly developed by Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, is revered for its reliability, high power output, and fuel efficiency. Ideal for rigorous military applications like the Rooivalk attack helicopter, it ensures optimal performance in demanding conditions.
 
Utilising twin engines augments safety for the Rooivalk. This configuration enables the helicopter to sustain operations in the event of engine failure, ensuring mission continuity. 
 
The dual-engine setup empowers the Rooivalk to meet the rigorous demands of combat scenarios, facilitating the carriage of heavy weapon payloads and operations in challenging environments, including high-altitude or hot conditions common in military theatres. 
 
Modern Avionics Suite  
The Rooivalk boasts a digital MIL-STD-1760B weapons station and MIL-STD-1553B avionics system. This allows for incorporation of various weapons and provides features like target acquisition, flight control, health and usage monitoring, communications, threat detection and control, flight and fuel, stores management and accurate navigation. 
 
Tactical Armament
The helicopter equips military commanders with formidable firepower, ensuring operational superiority in all conditions. Its arsenal comprises a nose-mounted Mokopa ZT-6 20mm cannon, mounted in a chin turret, offering rapid and precise engagement of ground and air targets, including enemy armoured vehicles and personnel.
It is equipped with under-wing rocket pods, typically carrying the 70mm Thales rocket system. These rocket pods allow the helicopter to engage a variety of targets, including enemy vehicles, fortifications, and personnel concentrations.
 
The missile capabilities encompass carrying anti-tank missiles like the Denel Dynamics ZT3 Ingwe for engaging armoured vehicles and fortified positions, along with air-to-air missiles such as the Denel Dynamics V3E Darter, laser-guided for effective self-defence or engaging enemy aircraft. Using laser beam-riding guidance Ingwe Surface Target Missile can reach and neutralise targets more than 5km away.
 
Electronic Warfare Suite
To protect itself against enemy radar-guided missiles, the Rooivalk is equipped with electronic countermeasures systems. These systems include jamming devices that emit signals to interfere with or deceive enemy radar and missile guidance systems, reducing the probability of successful enemy engagements.
 
Direct Fire Control features consists of Target detection, acquisition and tracking system (TDATS). TDATS has an auto-tracker, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor with three fields of view, laser designator, laser rangefinder and low-level television sensor.
It carries a full electronic warfare suite to increase survivability on the battlefield. The fully integrated helicopter electronic warfare self-protection suite (HEWSPS) can be reprogrammed using threat libraries matching the potential hazards of the area of operations. 
HEWSPS incorporates radar warning, laser warning and countermeasures dispensing system. 
 
The radar warner features low-effective radiated power (ERP) / pulse Doppler radar detection beyond radar detection range, ultra broadband frequency coverage, high pulse density handling and internal instantaneous frequency measurement.
The laser warner provides broadband laser frequency coverage to detect and display rangefinding, designating and missile guidance laser threats.
The helicopter is equipped with advanced sighting and targeting systems to assist its crew in identifying and engaging targets effectively. 
 
Key Components 
Here are the key components of the Rooivalk’s sight system:
 
It utilises the Rooivalk Helmet Mounted Sight and Display (HMSD) system, featuring the Thales TopOwl helmet-mounted display, to enhance situational awareness and targeting for both the pilot and gunner. 
 
The system offers a head-up display of critical information for nap-of-the-earth flight (NOE), enabling the pilot to engage with cannon and rockets if necessary. The TopOwl Digital Display provides night vision capabilities without the need for additional equipment, offering a balanced weight distribution and a wider field of view compared to traditional night vision goggles. 
 
Situational Awareness
TopOwl Digital Display, conceived in close collaboration with pilots for critical military operations, features a new very long latency head tracking system, enabling precise control of weapons and alignment with augmented reality (Synthetic Vision System - SVS) and landscape. 
It offers unmatched pilot situational awareness with a wide 40° binocular field of view and allows easy switching between day/night and I2T/FLIR configurations. 
 
The display maintains a high level of integrity, serving as a Primary Reference, and is compatible with all latest piloting sensors, including stereo Distributed Aperture Sensors for 180° 3D displays. 
Enhanced functionalities like augmented reality (SVS) and BoWo (Brown out-White out) symbology aid piloting anticipation and landing in Degraded Vision Environments (DVE). 
 
With Picture-in-Picture (PIP)/Head-in-Display (HID) function, pilots gain direct access to sensor images, while configurable symbology capability enables customisation based on mission and context. 
The new connection design ensures increased usage and safety.
 
The TopOwl helmet comprises two parts: the basic helmet and the display module. The basic helmet is customised for each pilot’s personalised fit, enhancing performance and reducing fatigue. 
 
TopOwl Digital Display provides pilots with high levels of comfort, reducing fatigue and improving performance over long, arduous missions.
Used in AH-1Z Viper, NH90, T129, Tiger, UH-1Y Venom, and Rooivalk helicopters, TopOwl has been selected by 16 countries for their military helicopters.
 
Sight Systems 
The helicopter features a FLIR sensor for day or night target detection, aiding in engagements beyond visual range. It integrates laser rangefinders and designators for precise targeting, complemented by multifunction displays for enhanced situational awareness. 
Weapon systems come equipped with their own sights, seamlessly integrated into the overall targeting system, enhancing the helicopter’s lethality and survivability in combat.
 
Navigation & Flight Control
Equipped with advanced systems, it ensures precise navigation through GPS and Inertial Navigation inputs. Its suite includes Doppler radar, GPS, heading sensor, and air data unit, alongside radio navigation gear.
The Automated Flight Control System (AFCS) stabilises flight and offers higher modes for autonomous hovering, altitude holding, and navigation along predefined routes. This system aligns the aircraft with targets indicated by the main sighting system.
In some configurations, the Rooivalk may feature automatic target tracking capabilities, allowing the helicopter to autonomously track and engage designated targets using its onboard sensors and weapons systems. This feature enhances the helicopter’s effectiveness in combat missions, particularly when engaging moving targets or multiple threats simultaneously.
 
Comms Suite 
The suite includes VHF/UHF transceivers for various speech processing modes, an HF radio with frequency hopping, and an IFF transponder. These enable communication with ground forces, air traffic control, and other aircraft over short to medium ranges, adapting to terrain and atmospheric conditions.
High-Frequency (HF) radios provide longer range communication capability compared to VHF/UHF radios. They are useful for communicating over greater distances, especially in areas where line-of-sight communication may be obstructed. 
It is also fitted with the Saab Grintek Defence Impi Blue Force tracker.  
 
Upgrade Programme
Rooivalk’s success in combat roles underscores its importance, prompting Denel Aeronautics to initiate an imminent upgrade programme, collaborating with Aselsan to enhance the helicopter’s capabilities.
Aselsan’s Pretoria-based subsidiary, Aselsan South Africa, serves as a hub for its parent company’s operations in sub-Saharan Africa, boasting autonomous design and development capabilities. 
 
The agreement with Denel expands on their previous understanding at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2022 exhibition, focusing on integrating Aselsan’s advanced MEROPS system onto the Rooivalk helicopter. 
MEROPS, an upgraded version of the CATS system used on UAVs, offers enhanced all-weather precision attack capabilities, leveraging image processing, machine vision, and AI algorithms for target identification and tracking. 
Featuring a thermal imaging sensor, low-light television, and laser rangefinder/designator, MEROPS ensures accurate delivery of precision-guided weapons.
 
The system consists of a single self-contained LRU (line-replacement unit) with quick-release connections, allowing payloads to be rapidly changed without calibration. 
 
Tech Triumph
Denel and Aselsan marked a significant achievement with the signing of a milestone certificate on July 27, 2023. This milestone outlined the defined technical solution and delineated the division of work for the avionics modernisation, forming the foundation of the Rooivalk upgrade programme from its current block 1F baseline configuration.
 
As part of the upgrade, Aselsan will integrate an enhanced glass cockpit featuring larger screens, a digital moving map, and a new helmet-mounted display system. These systems will be powered by two new mission computers and a new weapons systems computer. 
Additionally, the upgraded Rooivalk will receive a new navigation system with an inertial navigation system (INS) and global positioning system (GPS), along with secure V/UHF and HF radios and a mod-5/S capable identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder. 
The aircraft will also be equipped with a new mission planning and debriefing system and enhanced defensive measures, including a state-of-the-art radar warning receiver (RWR), chaff and flare dispensers, and an infrared jammer. The Denel Rooivalk, Africa’s only indigenous attack helicopter, remains a cornerstone of the South African Air Force’s capabilities, providing a solid foundation for attack missions and close air support.
 

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