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AS-532U2 Cougar MkII; 1996 - 2011; Gilze-Rijen, May 8, 2011

The End of the Cougar in the Netherlands; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Dutch minister of Defense Hans Hillen announced the upcoming cuts in funds for the Defense department in the Netherlands. The outcome of the announcements was devastating for the Defense department. This was also the case for the no 300 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen. Their Cougars will be retired on May 8, 2011.

The Eurocopter AS-532U2 Cougar is a two engine military transport helicopter which is used by 41 countries worldwide. The helicopter is suitable for light to medium weight sling loads which can be carried under the fuselage. The tasks of the Cougar are to move troops and to supply military installations in the field. Additionally, the helicopter can be used for MEDEVAC flights and assistance in firefighting. The number 5 in the type number of the AS-532U2 Cougar indicates that it is the military version of the AS-332 Super Puma. AS stands for Aerospatiale, this is the company who designed the helicopter. The U stands for Utility Helicopter and the 2 refers to the upgrade level of the helicopter. There are in several countries multiple versions of the Cougar in use, such as; a flying radar platform and an anti-ship helicopter. The Cougar has a retractable landing gear. The four bladed main rotor and the four bladed tail rotor are designed to survive an impact of a 20mm cannon or a 12.7mm machine gun. The air intakes of the two turbine engines are designed to prevent that sand or ice are sucked into the engines. The helicopter is equipped with a four-axis autopilot which the crew can use during operational deployments. The helicopter is designed to survive many situations. The critical systems are double fitted into the Cougar. The fuselage is designed to protect the crew up to a collision speed of 11.4 m/sec. Also, the gearbox will keep functioning without lubrication for 30 to 90 minutes.

On October 29, 1993 it was decided to purchase seventeen Eurocopter AS-532U2 Cougar helicopters. The delivery of the transport helicopters started in 1996. In 1996, 10 helicopters were delivered to the Dutch air force and the remaining 7 helicopters were delivered in 1997. The 17 Cougars are used as a medium weight transport helicopter. The helicopters were assigned to the no 300 Squadron. The unit was based at the former airbase of Soesterberg. The helicopters were based at Gilze-Rijen at the end of 2008. The Cougars are suitable for; transporting troops of the

Dutch Air Mobile Brigade, carrying supplies and MEDEVAC operations. A total of 7 Cougars are equipped with floats. These floats can be inflated so that the helicopter floats on the water in an emergency situation. The helicopters are therefore suitable to operate from the amphibious transport ship of the Royal Netherlands Navy. All Cougars are equipped with the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS). The HUMS system increases flight safety through a better view that is provided at the technical condition of the individual helicopter. The Cougar can be equipped with a gunner on both sides as well. These weapons are of the type FN MAG with a caliber of 7.62mm. Besides these weapons, the Cougar transport helicopters are equipped with a comprehensive package for self-protection. One of the self-protection systems is the ISPS (Integrated Self Protection System). This computerized system consists of; the Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS), the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and an Advanced Countermeasures Set (ACMS). The MAWS ensures that the crew is warned in case of a missile attack. The RWR ensures that the crew is alerted when the helicopter is tracked by a radar system.

The Cougars have been deployed several times during the last 15 years. In 2001, 5 Cougars of the no 300 Squadron were deployed in Bosnia as part of the Stabilization Force (SFOR). The main task during this mission was medical evacuation by the Incident Response Team (IRT). The helicopter was equipped with this medical equipment and a winch for Search and Rescue tasks was fitted. The helicopters were standby for 24 hours a day. The Cougars were detached in Iraq in 2004. They took over the tasks of the Chinook helicopter detachment after a few months. 5 helicopters were deployed to Iraq. They were based at Tallil airbase in the southwestern part of Iraq. The Cougars were mainly used to move equipment and personnel during this detachment. Again, the Cougar was widely involved on the MEDEVAC mission. In addition a Cougar was supporting the first free elections in Iraq by transporting voting ballots from As Salman and Bussaya to As Samawah. The Cougars were widely deployed in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010. A detachment of 6 helicopters was added to the Dutch Air Task Force in Afghanistan. The Cougars supported the Dutch and other ISAF troops from Kandahar and Uruzgan.

Besides these international deployments, the Cougar is also widely used for various national tasks. The Cougar is a very suitable helicopter for firefighting. The helicopter can be equipped with a so-called Bambi bucket. This is a flexible water container which is carried underneath the helicopter. The Bambi bucket of the Cougar can carry 2500 liters of water. The Cougars were also used during the big fire in the dunes of Schoorl and the big fire at the Strabrechtse Heide. Assistance in various fires was repeated in the early months of 2011. The Cougars were already deployed at several fires due to the extremely dry weather conditions in the Netherlands. There will be an end to the operational flights of the Cougar after 15 years of service. There is no room left for the Cougars within the Defense department due to the current cutbacks planned by the cabinet Rutte I. The Cougars are in need of a new update which will cost a lot. This money is currently not available and therefore it is decided to retire the Cougars from May 8, 2011 onwards. Only 3 helicopters will stay in active duty after this date to support the other helicopters with the national task. These helicopters will continue to fly until 2012. Their task will then be taken over by the new NH-90 helicopter. The future of the no 300 Squadron is uncertain at this moment. What is known is that the Defense department will drop 12,000 jobs during the current round of budget cuts. More than 6,000 employees will be fired from May 8, 2011. The downsizing of the Defense department is a serious cut in the operational capabilities of the Dutch Army.

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