The fighting capability of South Africa’s combat helicopters, the Denel AH-2 Rooivalk, cannot be understated

AH-2 Rooivalk is considered not inferior to the leading attack helicopters in the world today.


South Africa is the country with the leading defense industry in Africa. Their products are gradually affirming their position in the world arms export market, among them the AH-2 attack helicopter, the latest-generation attack helicopter from Denel Aviation of South Africa. AH-2 Rooivalk is considered not inferior to the leading attack helicopters in the world today. The Denel Rooivalk, previously designated AH-2, is an attack helicopter developed began in 1984 by Atlas Aircraft Corporation, the forerunner of the current Denel Aviation Group of South Africa. At the time, South Africa was under an arms embargo enacted by United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 due to its policy of apartheid, which prevented foreign combat helicopters from being imported. The South African Defence Force recognised the need for a dedicated attack helicopter and accordingly began the process of developing a suitable aircraft.


Development of the AH-2 Rooivalk was protracted due to the impact of limited budgets during the 1990s, and a desire to produce a highly advanced attack helicopter. The South African Air Force ordered 12 Rooivalk, designated the Rooivalk Mk 1 in South African Air Force service. It took 27 years for the Rooivalk to finally become operational in 2011, the helicopters are flown by No. 16 Squadron at Bloemspruit Air Force Base. Although it looks like an entirely new machine, the Rooivalk is based on the South African Oryx utility helicopter, which in turn is a reverse-engineered and upgraded version of the French Aerospatiale Puma. The Rooivalk uses the same engines and main rotor. The following types of missions are foreseen for the Rooivalk: reconnaissance, heliborne escort, close air support, deep penetration, and anti-armour.


Due to the South African Air Force’s decades of helicopter experience in the harsh African environment, the Rooivalk has been designed to operate for prolonged periods without sophisticated support. All that is needed to keep the Rooivalk flying is a medium transport helicopter equipped with a basic spares supply plus four groundcrew. AH-2 Rooivalk’s design seems to be influenced by Italy’s A129 Mangusta, with the pilot and gunner seated in a tandem seat cockpit. The weapon systems officer is seated in the front cockpit and the pilot is seated in the cockpit above and behind him.

The cockpits, which are fitted with crashworthy seats and are armour-protected, are equipped with hands-on collective And stick controls. A Thales Avionics Top Owl helmet-mounted sight display provides the crew with a head-up display of information for nap-of-the-earth flight. Other notable features include a crash-resistant structure and is designed for stealth with low radar, visual, infrared and acoustic signatures. The starboard tail rotor with a port tailplane, a fixed wheeled undercarriage as well as wire cutters above and below the cockpit and on the undercarriage. When the Rooivalk first came out, it was the only helicopter in the world that could fly upside down.


AH-2 Rooivalk is equipped with two Turbomeca Makila 1K2 turboshaft engines, producing 1900 horsepower each. Plus a large four-blade main rotor and a five-blade tail rotor system, this makes the South African helicopter can fly at a cruise speed of 278 km/h within 740 km, the service ceiling is 6,100m and rate of climb is 13.3 m/s.


AH-2 Rooivalk’s appearance in the sky is a joy for friendly forces on the ground, but a nightmare for the enemy infantry. Loosely analogous to the Airbus Helicopters Tiger, the Rooivalk packs a potent attack helicopter punch while still being relatively compact and capable of the armed scout mission. The AH-2 Rooivalk features a 20mm chin-mounted, swiveling cannon with 700 rounds available. It can carry 70mm folding-fin rockets or up to 16 locally built Mokopa anti-tank missiles. It can also sport air-to-air versions of the MBDA Mistral short-range missile for anti-helicopter ωɑɾʄɑɾε operations. Max takeoff weight tips the scales at just over 8.7 tons, which puts it somewhere between the Tiger and the Apache in terms of mass.

Electronic systems

The AH-2 Rooivalk has a fire control system for target acquisition and tracking as well as an advanced navigation system using Doppler radar and GPS. Also incorporated is an electronic countermeasures suite coupled with chaff and flare dispensers. The system is flight-line programmable and in-flight adaptable to match the threat library with the mission’s area of operation.


The AH-2 Rooivalk was never exported, geopolitical reasons aside, this was largely due to concerns about its supportability and the stability of South Africa’s aerospace industry. Seeing that a similar helicopter was available from Eurocopter in the form of the Tiger, along with increasing competition from other helicopters like the Bell AH-1 Cobra, Agusta A129 Mangusta, Boeing AH-64 Apache, Mil Mi-28 Havoc, etc, the Rooivalk had a hard time growing its user base. Also, the fact that European defense manufacturers associated with the Puma would not likely support Rooivalk export models if South Africa’s defense industry couldn’t did not help its cause.

In recent years, South African aerospace conglomerate Denel Defense has floated building a “Mk2” version of the Rooivalk. The helicopter would be greatly upgraded with new sensors and weapons, while also leveraging proven enhancements made to existing AH-2 Rooivalks serving with the South African Air Force. Egypt, Brazil, Poland, Nigeria, and even India have been approached by Denel to see if there was interest in such a concept, although at this point the Rooivalk Mk2 remains a pipe dream.

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