“Rooikat” – The African Caracal
The Rooikat armored car takes its Afrikaans name from the African Caracal (a type of wild cat). Similar to its namesake, the Rooikat armored car is fast and nimble, being used by the South African Defence Force (SADF) and its successor, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Rooikat is a completely indigenous military vehicle, adapted for the southern African battlespace. It was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was still subject to international embargoes because of its racial segregation policies (Apartheid). This was set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Rooikat 76 Mk1D at African Aerospace and Defence 2016. (Photo: Dewald Venter)
The SADF relied heavily on the Eland 90 armored car (heavily based on the French Panhard AML 90) during the mid-1970’s and early 1980’s conventional battles of the South African Border War (1966-1989) such as Operation Savannah. Although successfully used in combat, the Eland 90`s poor power to weight ration resulted in poor forward acceleration. This resulted in it lagging behind the more powerful Ratel IFV`s, which it was suppose to escort. What was required was a domestically built armored car suited to the southern African battle space which necessitates long-range strategic mobility. A wheeled configuration was chosen due to its benefits over tracked vehicles which included better mobility, longer range, less maintenance, better reliability, and less overall logistical support. A wheeled configuration is also more suitable for a mine-riddled theatre, as a wheel could be lost during a mine detonation without disabling the vehicle, whereas a tracked vehicle losing its track would become immobile.
The development of the Rooikat was one of South Africa’s most ambitious undertakings, with the project approval of a new generation armored car being granted in 1974. The user requirements were completed in November 1976, after which the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor) began compiling technical specifications which led to several research studies of 6×6 and 8×8 configurations by South African manufacturers. A decision was made in August of 1978 that three prototypes would be built for evaluation purposes which were delivered in 1979. Although the decision to adopt a naval 76 mm main gun already took place in 1978, all the prototypes were fitted with a British 77 mm Mk2 gun from retired South African Comet tanks. The three prototypes were based on and modified from existing hulls used in the SADF, namely the Ratel Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) (Concept 1), Eland armored car (Concept 2) and Saracen Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) (Concept 3) and were of 8×8 configuration. None of the three prototypes was deemed suitable after trials held in 1979 and the project was put on ice.
Concept 1 based on the Ratel ICV at the SA Armour Museum – (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Concept 2 based on the Eland armoured car at the SA Armour Museum – Dewald Venter (turret was the same as fitted to the Concept 1 and 3 vehicle) (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Concept 3 based on the Saracen APC at the SA Armour Museum – (Photo: Dewald Venter)
The staff requirements for the new generation armored car were put forward in 1980. Three new prototypes were built by Sandock Austral for trials which were held in March 1982. The prototypes were divided into a light, medium and heavy class (1-3). The Class 1 prototype, nicknamed Cheetah Mk1, was built according to the required light specifications which were for a 17 tonnes vehicle in a 6×6 configuration and mounting a 76 mm high-pressure main gun turret. It featured basic protection to increase power to weight ratio. The Class 2 prototype came in two variants, 2A and 2B. The Class 2A`s engine was located in the front which left sufficient space at the rear to be used as a troop compartment. The Class 2B`s had a traditional layout with the engine mounted in the rear. The Class 2B was nicknamed Cheetah Mk2 and was built according to the required medium specifications which were for a 23-tonne vehicle in an 8×8 configuration with a 76 mm high-pressure main gun turret. The Class 3 prototype, nicknamed Bismarck, was built according to the required heavy specifications, which were for a 30-tonne vehicle in 8×8 configuration with a 105 mm L7 main gun turret.
Class 1 prototype (turret destroyed during trials) at the SA Armour Museum – (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Rooikat 76 Class 2B prototype at SA School of Armour, Tempe Military Base – (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Class 3 prototype at the SA Armour Museum – (Photo: Dewald Venter)
After the trials, the Class 2B prototype was selected for further development and manufacturing. In 1986/7, Sandrock Brakpan completed an additional five advanced development models. Four of these were used for operational testing and assessment by the SADF in 1987 and christened the Rooikat armored car, while the remaining two were divided between Armscor and Ermetek for testing and development. By late 1988, three more Rooikats were delivered in conjunction with 23 pre-production vehicles (PPV). The first SADF Rooikat squadron was delivered to 1 Special Service Battalion (1SSB) in mid-August 1989. Full production of the Rooikat began in June 1990 and lasted until 2000. Production was done in a series of four lots. The first lot consisted of the 26 PPVs. The second (Mk1A), third (Mk1B) and fourth (Mk1C) lot each consisted of a regiment (72) of Rooikat armored cars. With each progressive production lot after the first, slight improvements were made as indicated by their mark designation. A total of 214 Rooikat armored cars were produced by 2000, which brought the total to 242. Lyttelton Engineering Works (LEW), a world leader in combat reconnaissance turrets, was responsible for the design, development and building the Rooikat turrets. Several subcontractors were involved, such as Elopto who supplied the optical equipment for the turret while Kentron manufactured the gyros for the stabilisation system. The Sandock-Austral was responsible for the design, development, and building of the Rooikat hull. A performance and reliability enhancement programme was launched in 2000 under project Arum Lily and lasted until 2006 which saw 80 Rooikat armored cars being upgraded from the Mk1C to Mk1D standard, which is the most modern variant.
The Rooikat armored car was designed with an emphasis on mobility. Firepower was the second most important feature. Protection was the least important as additional armor would have come at the cost of mobility. The principal tasks of the Rooikat as set out by the SADF included combat reconnaissance, seek and destroy operations, combat support, anti-armor and anti-guerrilla operations. Present SANDF doctrine places emphasis during combat operations on combat reconnaissance, harassment of enemy concentrations and rear guard units, disruption of enemy cohesion, logistical centres and supply trains and attacking targets of opportunity. During peacekeeping operations, the Rooikat can be used to monitor ceasefires, protection key points, escorting of convoys, act as a deterrent, reconnaissance and crowd control. In total, the SADF took delivery of 242 Rooikat armored cars. Presently, there are 80 Mk1D Rooikat armored cars in service with the SANDF while a further 92 remain in storage. The Rooikat is assigned to the SA Army School of Armour and 1 SSB at Tempe Military Base in Bloemfontein. In addition, three Reserve Force units are also allocated Rooikat armored cars, namely Umvoti Mounted Rifles in Durban, Regiment Oranjerivier in Cape Town and Regiment Mooirivier in Potchefstroom.
The design, development, and production of the Rooikat were undertaken due to the increasing need for a purpose-built armored car which was suited for the southern African battlespace. Furthermore, there was a dire need for an armored car which could keep up with mechanised formations to protect its flanks. The terrain it would operate in would be some of the most hostile in the world, which alone inflicts harsh punishment. Characterized by its eight massive wheels, mobility, bush breaking ability and versatility as a weapons platform, the Rooikat is well adapted for its role as a modern armored car.
According to the then Lt. Gen. Andreas (Kat) Liebenberg (1988), chief of the Army, “the Rooikat would be pushed into service because it can outmaneuver and attack tanks in battle conditions common to southern Africa, where engagements often are at close quarters.”
The following sections will specifically cover the Mk1D variant unless otherwise stated.
Rooikat 76 Mk1D at SA School of Armour, Tempe Military Base. (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Interactive Rooikat 76 with permission from ARMSCor Studios .
The southern African battlespace favours a wheeled configuration, in which the Rooikat 8×8 configuration excels. An eight-wheel run flat (designed to resist the effects of deflation when punctured) configuration offered more reliability and required less maintenance than a tracked vehicle. The Rooikat has a hydro-mechanical, manual shift, drop down gearbox. The gear selection range consists of six forward, a neutral and one reverse gear. The Rooikat can ford 1m of water without preparation and 1.5m with preparation. The Rooikat is powered by a twin-turbocharged, water cooled, 10-cylinder diesel Atlantis engine fitted with an intercooler which can produce 563 hp. This provides a 20.1 hp/t power to weight ratio. The Rooikat Mk1D can accelerate from 0 km/h to 60 km/h in 21 seconds and can achieve a maximum road speed of 120 km/h, with a safe cruising speed of 90 km/h. Changes were made to the engine from the Mk1C to the Mk1D which involved better connection points which improved the overall reliability of the engine. Due to the dusty conditions in Southern Africa, the engine has a primary and secondary dust filter. A 2m wide ditch can be crossed at a crawl. The Rooikat is capable of retaining mobility even with just one steerable wheel on either side.
The Rooikat is equipped with a fully independent internally driven trailing arms, coil springs, and shock-absorbers. The driver makes use of a power assisted steering wheel which controls the front four wheels and foot pedals for acceleration and braking. The Rooikat has a ground clearance of 380 mm and 350 mm with the addition of a mine protection plate.
Rooikat 76 Mk1C twin-turbocharged, water cooled, 10-cylinder diesel Atlantis engine, SA School of Armour, Tempe Military Base. (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Endurance and logistics
The fuel capacity of the Rooikat is 540 litres (143 US gallons) which allows it to travel 1000 km (621 mi) on road, 500 km (311 mi) off-road and 150 km (93 mi) over sand on a single tank. The Rooikat Mk1C was equipped with two 7.62mm belt-fed machine guns with a total of 3800 rounds. One machine gun was co-axially mounted on the left side of the main gun while the other was located on top of the turret structure above the commander’s station for close protection against ground and air threats. The Mk1D saw the removal of the second machine gun. The Rooikat is fitted with very high-frequency tactical communication radios which allow for reliable inter-crew communication, command and control which enhances the armored car’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield. The Rooikat features a built-in drinking water tank with a 40-litre water capacity accessible on the outside of the hull on the left.
The Rooikat carries a standard complement of four crew members, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The commander’s station is located on the right side of the turret and features a 360-degree field of vision through eight vision blocks which provide all-round visibility. Forward of the commander’s station on the roof structure is a day panoramic sight which allows commander a 360 degree x12 magnification capability without the need to move his head. Additionally, the commander has the ability to override the gunner’s control and slave the main gun onto a target via the panoramic sight which is coupled to the integrated fire control system. This allows for extreme accuracy and quick reaction times.
On the right side of the turret, below the commander’s station, is the gunner’s station which is equipped with day/night capabilities that are displayed on a digital display screen.
On the left side of the turret is the loader’s station. The loader has access to two periscopes, one facing forward and the other facing aft, both fitted on the left-hand side of the turret roof structure which can each rotate 270 degrees for better overall situational awareness. Entry and exit for the loader are via a single piece hatch cover. In case of emergency, the loader, gunner and commander can escape through service hatches located on either side of the hull in-between the second and third wheel.
The driver’s station is situated in the front centre of the hull and is accessible through the fighting compartment or a single-piece hatch above the driver’s station. The driver’s station is fully adjustable and features three periscopes for enhanced visibility and situational awareness. The central periscope can be replaced with a passive night driving periscope (manufactured by Eloptro) allowing full day/night capability. Making use of compressed air the driver can clean his periscopes while buttoned up. The ergonomic design and layout of the equipment in each section allows the crew to work fast and accurately under stressful battle conditions.
Rooikat 76Mk1D at the SA School of Armour, Tempe Military Base. Service hatch visible on side of the hull in-between the second and third wheel. (Photo: Dewald Venter)
The main armament is a South African GT4 76 mm quick-firing semi-automatic gun manufactured by Lyttleton Engineering Works (LEW). The main gun is a derivative of the Italian Otobreda 76 mm compact naval gun and has the same chamber volume. The Armor Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot-Tracer (APFSDS-T) round made with a tungsten alloy penetrator has a muzzle velocity of over 1600m/s and is capable of penetrating 311 mm of RHA at 10 m. This allows the Rooikat to penetrate the front hull (275 mm RHA) and turret (230 mm RHA) of a T-62 MBT at 2000 m. The APFSDS-T weighs in at 9.1kg and is 873 mm long. The High Explosive Tracer (HE-T) round carries 0.6kg of RDX/TNT and has an effective range of 3000 m when used in direct fire and 12,000 m in the indirect fire role. Canister ammunition can be used effectively at up to 150 m with a high probability of killing and up to 500 m with a high degree of maiming. The gun barrel is equipped with a thermal anti-distortion sleeve and reinforced fiberglass fume extractor which helps improve sustained accuracy when firing and reduces barrel droop due to heat.
76 mm APFSDS-T round made with a tungsten alloy penetrator round used by the Rooikat 76, SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)
76 mm HE-T round used by the Rooikat 76, SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)
The standard rate of fire for the main gun either in a stationary or a short halt is 6 rounds a minute. The turret drive can traverse the turret a full 360 degrees in 9 seconds. The main gun can elevate from -10 degrees to +20 degrees. The smaller calibre main gun (76 mm) of the Rooikat allows for a greater number of rounds than would have been possible if a 105 mm was chosen. This additional carrying capacity facilitates the Rooikat`s role in combat reconnaissance, execute seek and destroy operations and harassing enemy rear guard units when resupply proves difficult. Also, the recoil of the 76mm main gun has a normal range of 320mm and a maximum of 350mm which is less than that of a 105mm main gun. The fighting compartment of the Mk1D can carry a total of 49 main gun rounds of which 9 are ready rounds stowed vertically below the turret ring.
Fire Control System
The gunner makes use of an Eloptro 8x gunner’s day sight with an integrated ballistic computer which was added to the gunner’s sight. The integrated fire control system (IFCS) produced by ESD receives information from the laser rangefinder and environmental sensors which accurately measure meteorological conditions such as ambient temperature and wind speed which could affect the fire accuracy of the main gun rounds. Such variations are automatically calculated and compensated for in conjunction with the ammunition selected and fed into the gunner’s sights and main gun’s auto lay aim. The IFCS can hit a moving target while on the move itself by adjusting the main gun’s aim after incorporating the target’s distance, speed and relative speed thereby maximising first round hit probability. From the moment the gunner selects a target the IFCS produces a fire solution within two seconds. When the main gun is ready, the gunner is notified via a ready to firelight. The total engagement process takes roughly nine seconds. The development of the gun drive systems by ESD as part of the Reutech Group was a big step forward for the Armoured Corps as it brought fire on the move capabilities to Rooikat.
The Rooikat`s hull is made of all welded steel armor and is sufficient to afford all-round protection against shrapnel and small arms fire from close range. Over the entire front 30 degree arc, the Rooikat is protected against 23mm armor-piercing projectiles fired from medium range (+500m) while the sides and rear offer protection against 12.7mm (.50 cal.) rounds. The hull was tested and proven against the TM46 anti-tank mine when fitted with a special protection plate under the hull. Additionally, the hull is rated to withstand a 1000 lb (454kg) Improvised Explosive Device (IED). A mine detonation under a wheel would result in the destruction thereof but continued operation of the Rooikat. A fire suppression system (automatic & manual) was installed in the crew and engine compartment to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire or explosion if hit.
Lessons learned during the South African Border War showed that smoke grenade banks were prone to damage when “bundu bashing” (driving through dense vegetation) which necessitated the placement thereof to the rear sides of the turret. Two banks of four electrically operated 81 mm smoke grenade launchers are used for self-screening in an emergency. The Rooikat is also fitted with an instantaneous smoke emission system that can produce a smoke screen by injecting fuel into the engine exhaust which exists at the rear left of the hull. The operation of the screen is controlled by the driver. The frontal headlamps are under armored covers to protect against damage. The Rooikat is also capable of full Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection but is not fitted as standard.
In an attempt to up-gun the Rooikat, Reumeck OMC created a variant with a GT7 105 mm gun, with development being completed in 1994. The Rooikat 105 shared the same general design as the Rooikat 76, only differing in the larger calibre gun and modernized fire control system. It was slightly longer and weighed 1200kg more. The main armament could fire all current NATO types set for this calibre, including HESH and APFSDS. The gun was fitted with a 51 calibre thermal sleeve and a larger fume extractor. With training, the rate of fire can reach six rounds a minute. Combined with the high velocity of the round, the Rooikat 105 could defeat the T-72A frontally making it an efficient tank hunter against all MBTs encountered in the region. No orders where ever placed and only one prototype was ever manufactured. Although the Rooikat 105 would have been a valuable addition to the SANDF inventory, the conclusion was reached that the Rooikat 76 variant was sufficiently suitable to handle any armored threat in the region, including the T-72A from the flanks and the rear.
Rooikat 105 – Denel Media Center
Medium Turret Technology Demonstrator
There is a general belief that the vehicle below is a purpose-built Rooikat 105/120. This is, in fact, not true. The Medium Turret Technology Demonstrator (MTTD) was an independent project to develop and test the feasibility of a 105 mm high-pressure and 120 mm low-pressure main gun mounted on a remote turret in conjunction with an autoloading system and various other technologies. The loader (left side of the turret) and crew commander (right side of the turret) positions were moved into the hull giving rise to the depressions in the hull on either side of the main gun. The MTTD also features a mockup of an Active Protection System (APS) launcher on the rear of the turret. The APS would have increased the survivability of the platform when facing anti-tank missiles. The decision to mount the MTTD on the Rooikat hull was made by the defense industry as it was easier to transport and display. There are no currently known plans for building Rooikats fitted with this turret and gun.
Medium Turret Technology Demonstrator mounted on a Rooikat hull, equipped with a 105 mm gun and autoloader – SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)
During the South African Bush War, the SADF lacked a dedicated and modern ground to air defence system which could engage communist Warsaw Pact supplied aeroplanes such as the MiG-17, MiG-21, MiG-23 and Mig-25. The skies over Angola were, by the mid-1980`s, the most hotly contested airspace in the world. Project Prima was to be South Africa’s answer to the desperate need for a modern Self-Propelled Air Defence System (SPADS) which was capable of moving with its mechanised combat groups. The task of designing the SPADS was given to Armscor, Kentron and Electronics System Development (LEW), who finished the project study in 1983. Utilising the Rooikat hull with its excellent cross-country mobility was deemed the best option. Two prototypes were completed. One prototype was a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) and the other a Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Missile (SPAAM). Each was fitted with the newly designed EDR 110 radar developed by ESD which could track up to 100 air targets at the same time. The radar antenna was capable of being raised to a height of about 5 metres for increased visibility which would be very beneficial in the African bush. It was capable of detecting aircraft at 12 km and helicopters at 6 km. The entire SPADS system was designed to operate as an integrated air defence system in which targeting data could be shared between nearby SPAAGs\SPAAM and other air defence systems without radars.
Rooikat ZA-35 SPAAG
The SPAAG was designated the ZA-35 and would be responsible for close-in air defence. LEW designed a new turret, ammunition feed system and two Lyttleton Engineering M-35 35 mm guns which were fitted either side of the turret. The guns were capable of firing 1100 rounds a minute (18.3 per second) of either High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) against air targets or Armor Piercing Incendiary (AP-I) against lightly armored vehicles. The new ammunition feed system was much less complicated and required less working parts than other similar systems, thereby easing logistics and reducing the likelihood of breakage. A total of 230+230 rounds were in a ready to fire position and would engage targets in 2-3 second bursts. The computerised fire control system featured a fully stabilised electro-optical gunner’s sight and tracking system with a high-resolution video camera and a laser rangefinder for optimal target identification and tracking. Additionally, the electro-optical auto tracker allowed the passive tracking which neutralised electronic countermeasures.
Rooikat ZA-35 SPAAG – With permission from Pierre Victor
Rooikat 76 Mk1C. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Rooikat 76 Mk1D, camouflaged. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Rooikat 105. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Rooikat ZA-35 SPAAG. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.