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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

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
  • John Paterson

    Been a long time coming…

  • John Kirtland

    Would have been in service long ago had the Americans not interfered!!!!

  • Andre Jansen

    Brilliant machine that deserves to have done a lot better sales wise than it had

    • Sigauke

      I think following this action more sales should be forth coming

      • Andre Jansen


  • Guest

    It’s interesting to note that the first shots fired with a Rooivalk was almost immediately followed by the surrender of the M23. No serious correlation, but an interesting timeline.

    • Boitumelo

      I want to believe the surrender was on its way when the Rooivalk fired first shot.

  • Boitumelo

    Whatever the motive ,it is quite and I am sure DRC populace appreciate this.Call it sit this one out or dislocated M23 for a moment there is calm and we are thankful

  • Jurie Brits

    One of the best Attack Helicopters in the world, made in Africa for Africa!! It is reported that the Russian built Hinds (Mi-24) couldn’t hack it but that the Rooivalks sorted the problem out! You go, boys!! So proud of you :-)

  • Pingback: Congo’s defeated M23 rebels vow to disband and disarm | INYENYERI NEWS()

  • Marius Scheepers

    We needed this aircraft in Angola. When asking Genl Meiring (ex-SADF and ex-SANDF Chief) what he desired most in Angola, he said: 1. GPS positioning and 2. An atrack helicopter.

  • Jurie Brits

    Today, we can salute Magnus Malan and PW Botha for their part in creating this weapon!

    • Richard

      Except that we wouldn’t. Because, y’know, massive crimes against humanity.

    • Jean Racine

      So, do you toast Hitler and Goring when you marvel at the advances to flying made possible by the jet engine? Or do you give the proper praise to the hard-working designers, engineers, etc actually doing the work?

      • Jurie Brits

        Yes, you are right. I take it back..

  • Themba Londo Mabizela Mabizela

    Long live Africans die Rooivalk sal vrede bring in onse kontinent , all the greedy onlookers will finally get the message

  • stephendavion

    Rooivalk is a very good, cost-effective chopper. But when compared, Apache is simply more advanced. Network centric, employs a kick-butt MMW mast radar, highly modifiable, truly network-centric and battle tested and proven to work time and again.

    Here is an awesome article on Apache heli

    Considering capabilities, ease of maintenance, on-paper facts, unit price, political factors, etc. my personal top-5 list would be:

    1. AH-1Z / King Cobra (Simply the KING of attack helicopters.)

    2. T-129 / Mangusta (Advanced TR version with Comanche engine, A2A capability, SAR, etc.)

    3. AH-64 / Apache (Tried and proven tank hunter, but too costy to operate against soft targets.)

    4. Mi-28 / Havoc (Heavy butt gunship.)

    5. EC665 / Tiger (Eurocopter quality? Or is it just well marketed?)

    • Andre Jansen

      You may find that they are much closer in actual capability than you think and that Rooivalk may actually also be the more robust machine. .Its Mokopa missile clearly surpasses Hellfire in abilty. Rooivalk can also be made available with millimetric wave radar as AH 64 D (Longbow)
      If you want to find out about the quality and ability of SA systems bear the following in mind:
      SA was among the first (and probably the very first ) with frequency agile comms systems.
      The G 5 and G 6 artillery systems are even today, more than 25 years after first deployed still among the best in the world. When new they were without comparison.
      The G7 105 mm artillery system is without comparison in the world and is among others being considered by the US , UK and Canada
      SA mine protected anti ambush vehicles were the first of their type in the world and for decades the only ones available. Thousands have been sold among others 3000 + to the US.

    • DecimationPro

      Rooivalk has better weapons, flight dynamics and is more robust then the AH’s.

  • Themba Shabangu

    Just hope those M23 will not make their way to South Africa, with our borders relaxed, they can gain entry from anywhere.

    • Richard

      I think South Africa is probably safe :)

  • Petrux M

    Our military equipment sales are still hampered by embargoes.

  • DecimationPro

    Rooivalk beat the Apache in the British testing but lost because the UK wanted hellfire and the US wouldn’t allow us to buy any, therefore SAA bought Airbus instead of 737’s (eat that).
    The Apache is more electronically advanced, however the rooivalk has better flight dynamics (I have seen them do loops and fly upside down easily and for decent periods of time), better crew protection, easier field repairs and the ability to have AA and AT on without compromise at the same time.

    Here is the thing, any helicopter can be upgraded in electronics, but upgrading an apache to even try and compete is impossible.

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