The country’s State-owned defence industrial group Denel hopes that the Department of Defence and the South African National Defence Force will give a favourable response to the proposed “future roadmap” for Denel’s Rooivalk attack helicopter. This was stated by group CEO Riaz Saloojee at the recent media briefing announcing the group’s results for the financial year 2014/15.
He highlighted that the Rooivalk (which translates into English as Kestrel) had enjoyed great operational success in combat operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a detachment of South African Air Force (SAAF) had served as part of the United Nations forces. Saloojee pointed out that the SAAF Rooivalks had played a decisive role in defeating rebels in that country.
Currently, 11 Rooivalks are in operational service with the SAAF, with 16 Squadron; a twelfth was written off in an accident. Three prototypes were also built. The proposed roadmap would include both upgrading the existing helicopters and developing a new version. “It’s probably one of the two best attack helicopters in the world,” he emphasised. “It does not make sense for us not the pursue a roadmap for this system going forward.”
“It is a very credible attack helicopter. The Minister of Defence has been saying that we should nurture this, not only operationally but technologically.” The existing aircraft are already quite old and need upgrading. The proposed Rooivalk Mark (Mk) 2 would effectively be a completely new attack helicopter, although it would be based on the existing machine, Saloojee explained.
A Rooivalk Mk 2 programme would require funding and the company hopes to have a response from government within the next six months. “From a Denel point of view, we would be extremely pleased if they decided to develop the Rooivalk Mk 2.”
Although it is a very prominent example, the Rooivalk represents only one of the technologies developed and possessed by the Denel group. And retaining these key defence industrial and technological capabilities in the country is a most important mandate for the company. “The most critical one [mandate] is the maintenance and support of sovereign strategic industrial capabilities,” affirmed Saloojee. “We’ve been designated by the  Defence Review to be the custodian of these strategic capabilities. The strategic intent is very clear.” Denel gives the South African government independence in areas of defence technology and production.
The Defence Review highlighted command and control (C2) and maritime technologies as particular sectors for which the company should be the custodian. To this end, the group had recently set up its Denel Integrated Systems and Maritime division. “The company [Denel] is [also] in the process of obtaining a major stake in a respected C2 business,” reported Denel board chairperson Martie Janse van Rensburg at the same briefing. Saloojee explained that the intent was to bring South African intellectual property in C2 back under the control of a State-owned company.
Denel also seeks to contribute to the country’s national development objectives. “We’d like to think we’re beginning to significantly contribute to this,” he said. “This is a source of immense pride,” affirmed Janse van Rensburg.
The group is contributing to the development of skills. It sponsors some 100 engineers every year, of whom about 30 are taken into the company. It invests about R500-million a year into research and development. Its capabilities are being used to assist and support agencies in other government departments, such as border management and the South African National Parks (better known as SANParks), including in the combating of poaching. It also wants to be involved in sectors such as law enforcement, maritime protection and disaster management, especially with regard to C2.
Furthermore, the company supports government policy in Africa, including peace- keeping, stabilisation and so on. “Denel is good for South Africa,” affirmed Saloojee.