Turkey, the Rooivalk, and the Lite option
Though seriously under-reported, in the past few weeks it has become clear that Turkey has begun to express serious interest in possibly procuring around fifty Rooivalk attack helicopters as part of its re-opened ATAK program. This represents what may be Denel’s best export possibility yet for the aircraft, which has so far failed to attract any export orders.
Admittedly, the ATAK program has not been the most successful in the past. A string of failed bids and cancelled contracts represent a blot on its record, and we’ll need to be wary of that. Even so, it has been reported that Turkey has always been interested in the Rooivalk, and indeed was about to purchase a batch of the aircraft in 1998 before the SA government vetoed the deal in deference to Turkey’s Kurdish minority. So perhaps Denel will experience less difficulties than others like Bell did. We can only hope.
One very interesting aspect of this, in the meantime, is that Denel has begun talks with ATE and Aerosud, two other South African aerospace companies, to develop a lighter and cheaper version of the Rooivalk, to be dubbed the “Rooivalk Lite”. This will be aimed at developing countries, who require the capability of an attack helicopter but lack the funds to purchase the fully-capable Rooivalk. There would appear to be a ready market for this; ATE has already succeeded in selling over 100 SuperHind MkIII upgrades of the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter to a number of countries, including Algeria.
This would however depend entirely on securing the Turkish contract, the winner of which will probably be announced by August. Nevertheless, the concept of a Rooivalk Lite would appear at first glance to be a good one, which may just revive the project’s fortunes. In addition, the cheaper price may just make it possible for the SA Air Force to buy a batch of Rooivalk Lites to supplement its existing squadron of 12 Rooivalks, and that is something I would certainly like to see.