Lack of maintenance funds hits Rooivalk and Oryx serviceability

Major underfunding means that two of the most important helicopter types in the South African Air Force – the Oryx transport and Rooivalk attack helicopter – are largely grounded, with only a handful serviceable at present writes Guy Martin of Defenceweb. Cuts to the defence budget mean there is little prospect of the situation improving.

The Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor) on 15 February reported to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on the maintenance status of the fleets.

For the Rooivalk, Armscor told the committee that two types of contracts are in place with Denel Aeronautics for the Rooivalk: A fixed cost contract and an on-demand work contract. The fixed costs contract is in place until 30 September 2023, with R51 million provided. However, there is a shortage of R155 million on the contract, Armscor stated.

The Denel Rooivalk is an attack helicopter that was developed and manufactured in South Africa. Rooivalk is Afrikaans for Red Falcon, which refers to the lesser kestrel

With regard to the on-demand contract, this is in place until 31 March 2023. This was not funded in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 financial years and there is currently a shortage of R564 million for this contract. “Unavailability of funding is negatively impacting aircraft availability. Armscor and Denel are in negotiations with regards the further extension of the contracts,” Armscor stated, adding that no funding has been approved for an imminent 15-year major engine overhaul.

Of the 11 airframes in the Rooivalk fleet, only four are serviceable, with seven either unserviceable or undergoing maintenance, and of the 23 engines in the fleet, only 13 are serviceable.

The situation for the Oryx is not much better, with just seven serviceable out of a total of 39 in the fleet. Thirteen are at Denel for servicing while 19 Oryx are at squadrons awaiting servicing.

A maintenance order valid until 31 March this year is valued at R133 million, but only R110 million has been paid to date; Armscor is currently negotiating to have the order extended to 30 September 2023.

As with the Rooivalk, there is insufficient funding to complete the 15-year major overhaul of engine and transmission systems, which will cost R692 million. Armscor stated that the only funds received are sufficient to carry out the major overhaul of four engines.

The status of the SAAF’s rotary wing fleet is unlikely to improve as the helicopter capability has had its budget for the 2023/24 financial year cut by 30%, to R758 million (down from R1.1 billion in 2022/23). It will remain roughly the same in 2024/25 (R768 million) and 2025/26 (R821 million). The SAAF’s total budget allocation for 2023/24 is R7.1 billion.

Armscor also updated the Committee on the maintenance status of the C-130 Hercules fleet. A contract for the maintenance of these transport aircraft runs from 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2025. Of the five aircraft in the fleet, one is operational, two are undergoing maintenance and repair, and two are awaiting major overhaul. Additional funding to the tune of R1 billion has been made available in the 2023/24 financial year for medium air transport.