Rooivalk attack helicopters perform well in first combat action against M23
Yesterday, at approximately 17h00 Congolese time, two South African Air Force Rooivalk helicopters attached to the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade flew the craft’s first ever combat mission. The helicopters fired multiple 70mm rocket salvos against M23 bunkers near Chanzu in what is a mountainous region close to the Rwandan border.
Force Intervention Brigade
The Force Intervention Brigade is an offensive force established to assist the UN mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, in directly targeting specific militant groups in collaboration with the DRC government army. The FIB was instrumental in the defeat of the M23 rebellion in 2013.
The South African National Defence Force is the post-apartheid military force replacing the old South African Defence Force (SADF). Split into Army, Navy, Air Force and Military Health, the SANDF conducts operations through a Joint Operations Formation. The SANDF is currently organised into an operationally inefficient system of truncated 'formations', without clear integration. Armour formations, for example, remain separate from infantry, and so on, rather than set, pre-defined ORBATs.
Early reports from sources in the area indicate that the action was successful, with the Rooivalks’ tactical approach through the clouds taking the M23 defenders by surprise and their rocket fire being accurate enough to disperse them and destroy one of the 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns that had been previously used to fire at the Rooivalks and other helicopters.
The attack was combined with a renewed FARDC assault and subsequent claims by the DRC government that the remaining M23 senior commanders have now fled across the border into Rwanda. However this could not be independently verified.
This is the first time Rooivalk helicopters have engaged in combat since the prototype’s first flight 23 years ago.
Update: In the days since this article was published, further information has become available on this mission.
DefenceWeb reported that the operation ceased at 18h20 hours after one Rooivalk had fired 38 rockets and the other 17, with our sources confirming that these were fired in five separate salvos.
Major Pethias Mdoka, the Force Intervention Brigade’s Military Public Information Officer, confirmed the Rooivalk’s involvement, telling African Defence Review: “The FIB supported FARDC in neutralising M23 positions at Tshanzu with the use of artillery and Rooivalk attack helicopters at 17H10 on 4 November. By 06H00 the next morning FARDC forces held the ground.”
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Darren Olivier is the Senior Correspondent of the African Defence Review and has published several articles on African military issues including military equipment such as C2 systems, ongoing operations, budget issues and rebel groups. He can be reached on Twitter as @djolivier or at firstname.lastname@example.org.