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.

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.”