Since the middle of the 60-ies, combat helicopters have become a force capable of having a noticeable impact on the course of hostilities. The leading countries, where the rotary wing machines were created, were the USA and the USSR. In the 80-ies they were joined by Italy, France and Germany. However, attempts to create specialized attack helicopters were undertaken in other states.
The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled the country 24 of the year and executed by the military tribunal in 1989, greatly distanced himself from the Soviet Union, pursued an independent foreign policy and carried out military-technical cooperation with Western countries. Thus, in addition to Ceausescu, in addition to light multipurpose Alouette III for the Romanian armed forces, French medium-sized transport helicopters Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma were procured and subsequently licensed. Part of the Romanian shock-transport IAR-330L was equipped with two 20-mm cannons, Malyutka ATGM and NAR units. The helicopter could also carry four 100 kg bombs or 2-4 GMF-2 containers with 2 7,62-mm machine guns. However, the Puma turned out to be too expensive and large to build a specialized attack helicopter based on it.
In Romania, on the basis of the IAR-316B helicopter (the Romanian licensed version of the French SA.316B Alouette III) created a lightweight impact IAR-317 Airfox. The first prototype flew in 1984 year. The double cabin of the helicopter with a tandem arrangement of the crew was partially covered with light bulletproof armor. The armament consisted of the Malyutka ATGM, 57-mm NAR, 50-100 kg units of aerial bombs, fixed GMP-2 containers with two 7,62-mm machine guns and 550 ammunition ammunition. The shock Airfox was demonstrated at the Le Bourget Air Show in 1985. According to the presented advertising information, the mass of the combat load reached 500 kg. However, taking into account the weight of the cabin reservation, the advertising data were most likely overstated and the actual combat load is approximately two times less.
However, IAR-317 Airfox was outdated at the design stage, so the French abandoned the idea of creating a purely impact modification based on Aluet back in the 60s. Frankly weak power plant light helicopter did not allow to achieve an acceptable level of protection. The Airfox’s armament and missile guidance system for the mid-80s were frankly archaic. In addition, the helicopter did not shine with high flight data. The machine with a maximum take-off weight of 2200 kg developed 220 km / h. Cruising speed was 190 km / h. Practical flight range - 520 km. Due to the low power density, the rate of climb was very low - 4,5 m / s. It is clear that a car with such flight data could not compete not only with the Mi-24, but also with the first modification of the American Cobra. The helicopter did not suit even the Romanian military, not spoiled by technical innovations, and soon the program was turned off.
As a result, in Romania, all the same, they returned to the idea of creating a combat helicopter based on the Puma license. But this happened already in the 90s, after the overthrow of Ceausescu. In September, the Romanian Air Force 1995 signed a contract with the Israeli company Elbit Systems to upgrade the 24 helicopters to the level of IAR 330L SOCAT.
IAR 330L SOCAT
As part of the modernization of the Romanian "Pumas" received a modern sighting and search system and night vision equipment. On the turret in the front of the fuselage mounted French 20-mm gun THL 20 with 750 ammunition shells. In the antitank configuration, the helicopter carries the 8 Israeli Spike-ER and 2 ATGM 57-mm NAR UB-32. Flight data compared with the prototype has not changed. The helicopter with a maximum take-off weight of 7400 kg has a combat radius of about 280 km. Maximum speed due to the deterioration of aerodynamics decreased to 263 km / h. The first helicopter was transferred to the troops in 2001 year. In addition to the Romanian Air Force, IAR 330L SOCAT helicopters were shipped to Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire — that is, African states fighting insurgents or having unresolved territorial disputes with their neighbors. It is clear that the criterion for the selection of "combat helicopters" of Romanian production was a relatively low price.
The French “Aluette” inspired not only Romanians to create an attack helicopter. In 70-80-s of the last century, military units of South Africa conducted military operations in the territory of Namibia, Mozambique and Angola. For the landing of assault forces, the evacuation of the wounded, the delivery of supplies and fire support, the same Aluetas and Pumas were actively used. The Airborne Pumas carried the NAR blocks, installed 7,62-12,7-mm machine guns in the doorways. Light armed "Alueta" combed vegetation from machine guns and 20-mm guns. At the same time, modifications with movable machine guns mounted in doorways and with suspended machine gun and cannon containers were used. Often the helicopters struck 68-mm NAR. ATGM initially used rarely, for them simply did not have worthy goals.
For the time being, South African soldiers were confronted by poorly trained partisans, armed mostly with light rifles. weaponshelicopter losses were low. But soon after the invasion of Angola, the Yuarians encountered a regular army trained by Soviet advisers, on the side of which well-motivated and well-trained Cuban "volunteers", armed with the most modern equipment at that time, fought. From air strikes, the Cuban and Angolan troops were covered with numerous 12,7-57-mm anti-aircraft guns, Strela-2М, mobile ShSil-23-4, Shilka, Strela-1, Osa And C-10. In addition, for the crews of Yuaroff helicopters flying over Angola, there was a risk of meeting with MiGs and Mi-125 helicopters. Under these conditions, "Pumas" and "Alueta", despite the precautions, began to suffer losses. During the invasion of Angola, the South African army lost five SA 25 Puma helicopters and at least three SA.330 Alouette III helicopters. Quite often, helicopters returned with holes and killed or wounded crew members on board.
Shortly after anti-insurgency operations in the Bush turned into battles between regular armies, in which they were used from both sides aviation, Tanks and artillery, the command of the armed forces of South Africa set the task of creating an attack helicopter before the national military-industrial complex. Due to the arms embargo introduced in 1977, the Republic of South Africa lost the opportunity to purchase military helicopters abroad. At the same time, sanctions stimulated the development of their own industry. In the 70-80s in South Africa, it was possible not only to establish the production of spare parts for previously received military equipment, but also to modernize it and adopt the models of its own production.
Initially, there were plans to create a strike helicopter based on the transport assault SA 330 Puma. South Africa purchased the Pum 20 SA.330C, 19 SA.330H and 18 SA.330L modifications. It is worth saying that Puma is similar in size and layout to the Soviet Mi-8, on the basis of which the shock Mi-24 was built. Based on SA 330 in 1985, the South African company Atlas Aircraft Corporation developed the Oryx transport assault helicopter. This machine is roughly equivalent to Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma. The helicopter received quite perfect for that time avionics and Turbomeca Makila IA1 engines with the take-off power of the 1880 hp. The maximum speed of the eight-ton machine was 306 km / h. The combat radius of action is about 300 km.
In 1986, on the basis of the modernized Puma, a helicopter was created, conceptually close to the Soviet Mi-24. One modernized transport-combat helicopter ХТР-1 (Experimental Test Platform - Russian. Experimental test platform) was equipped with sighting and search systems and air-to-air missiles. In this case, the helicopter could take on board a half dozen paratroopers with weapons, or 2500 kg of cargo.
Experimental combat helicopter XTR-1
Another instance, known as the XTR-2, received a relatively large elongation wing, under which the ZT-3 Swift ATGM and NAR blocks were placed. Optoelectronic sensors appeared in the nose, and the cockpit was covered with local reservation. Unfortunately, the photos of this instance could not be found, but how the XTR-2 looked like can be judged by the “Puma” helicopter owned by the American company PHI “imitated” to imitate the Mi-24. Inc. This car was shot in the movie "Rambo-3", and at the end of 80-x participated in the exercises of the American army.
Unlike Romanians, South African specialists, realizing the futility of this path, decided not to turn the existing transport-assault helicopters into combat ones and concentrate their efforts on developing a new strike machine. Radically upgraded helicopters XTR-1 and XTR-2 were used to develop the avionics and weapons designed for the advanced combat helicopter AH-2 Rooivalk.
There was a certain groundwork for this in South Africa. In the first half of 1981, Atlas Aircraft Corporation began the development of an attack helicopter based on the SA.316B Alouette III. From the French car took the engine, transmission, carrier and tail rotor with tail boom. The cockpit and fuselage were redesigned. The crew was located in a double tandem cockpit with a significant excess of the pilot over the weapon operator. Under the front cockpit installed turret with 20-mm gun GA1. On the external nodes on the side of the fuselage was provided suspension ATGM and NAR. However, it was not possible to find a single photograph with external weapons, which indicates that the helicopter built in a single copy was from the very beginning only a demonstrator designed to convince the military and the government of the ability of the South African military industrial complex to create its own combat helicopter.
Tests of the helicopter, which received the designation XH-1 Alpha, began in February 1985 year. According to flight data, Alpha almost corresponded to the Romanian analogue of IAR-317 Airfox, which took off a year earlier. The helicopter with a maximum take-off weight of 2200 kg was equipped with a Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft engine with an HP 550 power. and could reach speeds of up to 200 km / h. Practical flight range - 550 km. A machine with such characteristics would have a chance of being put into service in the 60s, but in the second half of the 80s, Alpha had no prospects. The helicopter after the end of the test program, in 1992, was transferred to the South African Air Force Museum.
Based on the experience of combat operations and on the basis of tests of experienced combat helicopters of the South African Air Force, they formed requirements for a promising attack helicopter. Since the new car had to operate in specific conditions of high temperatures and dustiness at field aerodromes, such criteria as high reliability, maintainability and low operating costs were specified separately. To reduce the load on the crew during long flights over the bush, it was assumed that the composition of the highly automated avionics of the helicopter will include a perfect navigation system that allows you to confidently plot a route in an area devoid of landmarks. If possible, the main components and assemblies of the perspective attack helicopter should be unified with the existing helicopter fleet. That, in turn, reduced production and operating costs and allowed to speed up the training of technicians.
The helicopter, designated CSH-2 (Combat Support Helicopter - Russian. Helicopter combat support) and the name Rooivalk (translated from Afrikaans means "Kestrel"), first flew into the air in February 11 1990. When creating this machine, Atlas Aircraft Corporation used the developments of the Oryx and XH-1 Alpha helicopters. Royvalk does not have any revolutionary constructive decisions, but at the same time it is a well-made fighting vehicle with a tandem crew arrangement traditional for attack helicopters.
The fuselage of the helicopter is mainly made of light alloys using composite materials. The basic vital systems of the helicopter are duplicated. Used shielding more important structural elements less important. Control of the helicopter can be carried out by the pilot and the weapon operator. The crew cabin is covered with metal-ceramic armor, and the most important components and assemblies are shielded with polymer ballistic panels. The sides of the cabin withstand shelling 12,7-mm bullets. The four-blade main rotor remains operable after shooting through a 12,7-mm caliber weapon. It is noted that the protection of "Reval" is not designed to hit 20-23-mm projectiles as the "Apache" or "Tigre", which, however, meets specific local conditions and meets the requirements of the South African Air Force. Worse than foreign counterparts, the speed safe for the crew landing, on the "Revalka" this figure does not exceed 8 m / s. Although the majority of "classmates", this parameter is within 10-12 m / s.
The power plant initially consisted of two Turbomeca Makila IA1 turboshaft engines with a total take-off power of the 3760 hp. The same engines are used on the Orix transport assault helicopters. Although the Reuvalka booking is weaker than that of the Apache, the Mi-28 or the European Tiger, its maximum take-off weight reaches 8750 kg. At the same time, the capacity of the internal fuel tank is 1854 l.
In the 90-ies due to a sharp decrease in defense spending program funding has declined. After the abolition of the apartheid regime and the coming to power of the African National Congress in 1994, the Royvalk program was on the verge of closure. However, by that time it was completely obvious that the helicopter could be brought to an acceptable level of efficiency and technical reliability. In addition, the development of its own aircraft industry ensured the creation of new jobs and the development of high technologies.
Although the first prototype on tests showed good flight data, with the engines of the first stage, the helicopter accelerated to 290 km / h and was able to perform a “dead loop”, fine-tuning the avionics and helicopter armament went slowly. It took a lot of time to bring the all-day TDATS sighting and viewing system to “make to mind”. Progress in equipping the “Royvalka” with modern electronic systems appeared after in April 1997 of the year an agreement was reached with the Franco-German concern Eurocopter to collaborate on the helicopter's avionics.
By the beginning of the 21 century, the Kestrel really got on the wing, and it was decided to start serial construction. The helicopter officially put into service under the designation of the AN-2 Rooivalk. Production of the helicopter took the company Denel Aviation, which absorbed Atlas Aircraft. However, the assembly was carried out very slowly, by 2005, only six of the 12 helicopters ordered were ready for troop testing. The reliability of helicopters was initially low, often with complex electronic equipment, due to problems with the software compatibility of the guidance equipment and the sight-sight complex, aimed firing at an ATGM was impossible at night. In 2005, one helicopter crashed during an “unsupervised landing”. The crew survived, but the car itself was not subject to recovery.
Compared to the prototype, a number of improvements have been introduced on serial machines. First of all, the system of purification of air entering the engines was upgraded. The need for this was due to the use of engines Turbomeca Makila 1K2 with take-off power, increased to 1904 hp To reduce the visibility in the thermal range, the engine exhaust gas mixing system with ambient air is installed in the ratio 1: 1. At the same time, thermal visibility is reduced by approximately two times.
With the new engines, the maximum speed of the “Reuval” is 307 km / h, cruising - 278 km / h. Rate of climb - 13 m / s. Practical flight range - 740 km. When using outboard fuel tanks, the fermentation range reaches 1300 km. The helicopter has a good maneuverability, during the demonstration flights "Royvalk" repeatedly performed aerobatic maneuvers.
A low-level television camera, a thermal imager and a laser range-finder are mounted on the gyro-stabilized spherical platform in the bow. Night-vision equipment is located at the tip of the helicopter.
The instrumentation equipment of the helicopter is built on the principle of "glass cabin" using color multifunctional LCD monitors. The system of integrated control and display of data on the windshield provides the crew with information about the combat load, the choice of weapons and missile launch options. Pointing weapons occurs with helmet-mounted sights. The helicopter has a closed digital communication line through which information can be transmitted in real time to other attack helicopters or to ground command posts. However, nothing is known about what countermeasures are used to counter air defense systems and enemy fighters. It is likely that in order to save on South African attack helicopters they only manage with heat trap cassettes and dipole reflectors. The absence of onboard missile warning equipment and sensors that detect laser and radar exposure, as well as EW systems, should be compensated for by appropriate tactics of application. Against all sorts of insurgents, armed mostly with small arms, the Royvalka crew can use the NAR and the cannon. When confronted with a technologically advanced enemy helicopters must operate at extremely low altitude, making it difficult to detect ground-based radars. Target designation is carried out from ground-based advanced aircraft gunners, or from reconnaissance helicopters and UAVs. Before using guided missiles is climbed. The launch of an ATGM should be carried out over the positions of its troops, from a distance of 7-8 km. This tactic allows you to avoid the defeat of enemy fire by air defense.
The “main caliber” of the South African rotary-wing shock machine was supposed to be the ZT-3 Swift anti-tank guided missile with laser guidance and a launch range of 4 km. However, the serial helicopters currently used Mokopa ZT-6 anti-tank guided missile with a laser seeker.
ATGM Mokopa ZT-6
According to the advertising data of the manufacturer Denel Dynamics, the 49,8 kg missile is capable of penetrating 1300 mm homogeneous armor at a range of 10 000 m. There are also variants with fragmentation and thermobaric warheads. Flight speed on the trajectory of about 330 m / s. Rocket production began in 1996. At present, modifications with radar and IR GOS have been tested.
Guided missiles and rockets with missiles are located on the middle wing, spanning 5,2 m. Under each plane there are three suspension units. All in all, “Royvalk” can take 16 ATGM Mokopa ZT-6 or 76 70-mm HAP FZ90 produced by the Belgian company Forges de Zeebrugge. It is reported that in October 2015 of the year on the helicopter "Royvalk" 70-mm laser-guided missiles were successfully tested.
For firing at lightly armored targets and manpower at short distances, a mobile unit with the F20 2-mm cannon, which is based on the French GIAT M693, is designed. The gun has a rate of fire up to 720 rounds per minute and is capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to 1500 m. Ammunition - up to 750 projectiles.
Troop trials of the Kestrel continued until the 2011 of the year. In this case, the helicopters made quite long flights throughout the territory of South Africa. The pace of delivery was not great, and were 1-2 machines per year. After the end of the period of military tests and the achievement of "full operational readiness," the helicopter received the designation Rooivalk Mk 1.
Satellite image Google Earth: Rooivalk Mk 1 at Swartkop air base
Since 2012 has been building helicopters with an improved modification of Block 1F. Based on the experience of operating the first machines, the upgraded helicopters received an improved avionics and a new, more reliable transmission. Cooling problems with the 20-mm side gun were also fixed. The last of the twelfth "Royvalk" was transferred to the military 13 March 2013 of the year.
Rooivalk helicopters, like Ratel armored cars, became the hallmark of the South African military industrial complex. But the hopes of the management of Denel Aviation for the export of military helicopters did not materialize. Foreign buyers are usually extremely cautious about low-volume samples of military equipment. In addition, rumors about airborne avionics and helicopter armament leaked to the media. Royvalk participated in a Turkish tender, but AgustaWestland T129 was announced the winner. Although potential customers from “developing” countries showed interest at the arms exhibition in the South African machine, the use of European-developed avionics components imposes restrictions on supplies to countries where there are internal conflicts or armed confrontation with neighbors. The export version of “Royvalka” in 2007 was offered for $ 40 million. Now the cost of a South African military helicopter is probably even higher. For much less money you can buy Mi-35M. In 2008, a modernized “crocodile” cost $ 12,5 million on the foreign market.
Currently, the South African Air Force has 10 Royvalk helicopters. All of them are operated at Bloemspruit airbase as part of the 16 th attack helicopter squadron, together with combat helicopters AW.109Е LUH. At the same airbase deployed fighter JAS 39 Gripen.
Goоgle Earth satellite image: Rooivalk Mk 1 helicopters and JAS 39 Gripen fighter at Bloemspruit airbase
Attack helicopter "Royvalk" can not boast of a rich combat career. The meager number of built copies and operation only in the South African Air Force does not allow to judge how good this machine is in real combat operations. Combat use of the helicopter was extremely limited. It was reported that a pair of Rooivalk Mk 1, together with AW.109Е LUH helicopters, patrolled off the coast of Mozambique in order to counter piracy. In 2013, several Royvalk helicopters were deployed as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. White-painted helicopters escorted convoys and airborne patrols of peacekeepers. At the same time several times used 20-mm guns. 4 November 2013, two attack helicopters attacked 70-mm NAR on the positions of the militants of the March 23 movement. Given that the service life of the “Reuval” should be at least 25 years, these machines will remain in service in the future. In 2016, it was announced that all the front-line machines were planned to be upgraded to the level of Rooivalk Mk 2, but the resumption of mass production is possible only if there is a foreign customer.
To be continued ...