About 15,000 troops, including 2,000 of non-NATO member Sweden, 40 aircraft and helicopters, about a thousand vehicles and several ships and boats are currently kicking a** in Northern and Central Norway. Exercise Cold Response included the taking of the normally peaceful village of Namsos, situated on the shores of beautiful fjords.
The 7th edition of the multinational winter war exercise hosted by Norway brings units from mainly NATO countries together, to show what they can as “bad” and “good” force against each other. To train for a possible real war scenario and to show NATO’s current strange “friend” Russia that the North American-European alliance still can.
Under economic pressure the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) was saying goodbye to the Cougar helicopter, but the vital function of the tactical transport helicopter saved from the axe was shown clearly this week during an airlanding exercise near Arnhem, the Netherlands.
The military training grounds of Deelen and the Ede Heath saw a lot of action in a normally quiet Autumn. A total of six RNLAF choppers were flying back and forth with military equipment, from pallets to vehicles. The double rotor choppers – aka Boeing CH-47 Chinooks – are not easy to miss, but the quieter and real stars of the show were the AS532U2 Cougars.
SFOR in Bosnia
Seventeen of these machines won over the legendary Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk when the Royal Netherlands Army was looking for a proper rotary airlift in the 1990s. Designed by Aérospatiale, built by its successor Eurocopter and currently named Airbus Helicopters, the French built machines arrived in 1996 and 1997. Their service record has not been without trouble. The machines were notorious for leaking fuel and the lack of de-icing equipment did hamper operations a bit while 5 machines operated with the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia in 2001, the RNLAF Cougars’ first operational deployment.
Neither fond of heat the Cougars also had some issues while flying from Tallil Airbase in Iraq in 2004. Operation in 2006 to 2010 as part of the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces Task Force Uruzgan in Afghanistan were limited by Cougars not only having to combat heat but also high altitude operations, flying from inside the Uruzgan province and Kandahar.
But the choppers were still able to perform important tasks in support of the Royal Netherlands Army, as Search-and-Rescue or medevac asset, as shipborne troop transport helicopter for the amphibian forces of the Marine Corps of the Royal Netherlands Navy embarked on landing transport docks, and as fire fighter with the so-called bambibucket both at home and abroad.
Flying up to 500 miles (800 km) – further with additional fuel tanks – the Cougar operates normally with a crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, loadmaster and door gunner on a 7.62 mm machine gun. The cargo hold has room for 10 fully equipped troops or 14 without equipment. In the medevac role a doctor/anesthetist and a nurse are on board to take car of up to six patients, three sitting up and three lying down.
Gilze Rijen Airbase
All Cougars fly with 300 Squadron, operating from Gilze Rijen Airbase. The unit’s personnel were shocked to learn in 2011 that their job was about to disappear when the Ministry of Defence in the Hague announced another round of downsizing. But even with the awaited beefing up of the Boeing CH-47F Chinook fleet to 20 machines, having the NH90 choppers on strength at 18 the military and defence policital leadership say they have noticed a lack of rotary wing capacity if there would no longer be any Cougars.
Cougar service life
So the French design from 1965 will stay part of the fleet until at least 2023, Defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert recently wrote to the parliament in the Hague. Currently down to 12 operational machines a even smaller number of Cougars will keep on flying till the end of their new decided service life until the leadership is confident the Foxtrot Chinooks and NH90s can do the job together.
11th Airborne Brigade
As illustrated again at the Ede Heath and Deelen training grounds this week, the Cougars and Chinooks often operate closely together with the 11th Airborne Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army. That capacity – although not fully used since 2013 as the red berets have been deployed more conventionally – is something the Netherlands would like to keep. Possibly in light of the increased Russian activity on the borders with NATO, where the strengthened Russian Aviation Regiments are training on blitzkrieg-like offensive maneouvres by quickly moving sizable ground units through the air by Mil Mi-8/Mi-17s escored by Mi-24/35 Hind attack helicopters.
Backed by renewed trust the men and women of 300 Squadron of the RNLAF showed this week that although plagued through its service life, they are up to the challenge of airlifting combat reinforcements to airheads in the field, in the way the AS532U2 Cougar was originally purchased for.
The seventeen Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Cougar transport helicopters were earmarked for retirement as early as 2011 once, but Dutch Defense minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on Wednesday 14 October reported to parliament that they will now remain into service until 2023. It’s rehabilitation for the helicopters, that never saw much love in the Netherlands.
The Cougar suddenly seemed on its way out in 2011 already because of budget cause. A lacking search and rescue capability forced the RNLAF to keep a number in service, however. Before today, 2020 was mentioned as the final year for the Dutch Cougars, the first of which was delivered in 1996.
Keeping them flying until 2023 will cost Dutch taxpayers 130 million EUR. The choppers are based at Gilze Rijen airbase.
UPDATED 21APRIL 2015 | The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) led air strikes on Houthi rebel positions in neighbouring Yemen has got a broad military support from many other Arab nations. As Airheadsfly.com got new data the RSAF F-15S (Strike) Eagles and EF2000 Typhoons didn’t fly into combat alone at all.
If our sources are correct the United Arab Emirates Air Force sent 30 of its fighter jets, mainly Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcons and possibly a number of Dassault Mirage 2000s. The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and Kuwait Air Force both said to have contributed about 15 combat jets each. If true, the relatively large RBAF contribution is remarkable, since the country has only about 15 to 17 operational F-16Cs and eight remaining and aging Northrop F-5Es.
The Kuwait Air Force used almost half of its 35 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet. The Qatar Emiri Air Force scrambled up to ten of its Mirage 2000s, while the Royal Jordanian Air Force flew six of its Lockheed Martin F-16s into combat in the Yemen.
Air Assets Operation Restoring Hope (known as Decisive Storm until the end of April 2015)
Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF):
100 aircraft, including Boeing F-15C Eagle air-superiority fighters, Boeing F-15S (Strike) Eagles, Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon multi-role fighters, Panavia Tornado interdictor / strike aircraft, Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters (unconfirmed), Aérospatiale (Airbus Helicopter) AS532M Cougar CSAR helicopters
United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF):
30 fighter jets of Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000 type
Kuwait Air Force (KAF):
15 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornet multirole fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF):
15 aircraft of the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5 type
Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF):
10 Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
Royal Jordanian Air Force (RDAF):
6 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16A/B Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
Royal Moroccan Air Force:
6 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
Sudanese Air Force:
3 to 6 Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft. Operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia. Moreover the Sudanese Air Force has likely deployed some of its four C-130 Hercules and possible its two Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft in support
Egyptian Air Force:
US Air Force (USAF):
Boeing KC-135 Stratofortress upon Saudi request. First refuelling mission flown on 8 April 2015.
The air strikes are focusing on Houthi rebel positions, air defence sites, air bases and Sanaa international airport, command-and-control locations and army camps in Sanaa, Saada and Taiz. The first strikes were launched on 25 or 26 March 2015, with ground forces engaged as well in what has been dubbed Operation Decisive Storm. Officially it takes place under the flag of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the members.
Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube
Saudi Arabia has said to have committed a 100 aircraft, as well as 150,000 ground forces. The six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons that the Royal Moroccan Air Force already had in the United Arab Emirates to fight ISIS in Iraq have also been retasked with supporting the Saudi-led operations in Yemen. Sudan committed three combat aircraft, Sukhoi Su-24s (“Fencer”) sources say. Egypt pledged its support as well, but there is no information yet on how many and which aircraft it will sent.
The conflict in Yemen is between loyalist forces that support fled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi / Zaidi Shia rebels. Main focus is the western part of the country. There the loyalist forces have the most support in the Sunnis south – with Aden as the principal city. Whoever control Aden, controls the sea lanes to/from the Red Sea – a main supply route for oil and other goods. The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia is said to be pushing towards Aden with a ground force of about 5,000 troops.
The Houthi forces have a strong control of the northern part of the west, mainly north of the capital of Sanaa. They easily took control of the capital last September and are known to be an effective fighting force, meaning the Arab coalition will very likely deploy combat aircraft and maybe helicopters in the close air-support role. In fact, the Saudis deployed armed helicopters (likely Apaches, but this is unconfirmed) on the border when its ground forces clased with Houthi forces.
Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube
During a large part of the 20th century there were two Yemens. North Yemen became a state in 1918, while South Yemen freed itself from colonizer Britain. The two united on 22 May 1990, but unrest has plagued the country since 1993. In the current conflict Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia support the loyalist forces – including military ground and air ops since this week. Iran is opposing the use of weapons by its Arab neighbours, but has so far stayed out of the conflict militarily.
Houthi rebel combat planes
Officially at least, since some sources indicate that Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force pilots are flying combat planes of Yemeni Air Force units who sided or were overrun by Houthi rebels. One or more Iranian ships have also docket in Hudaidah with military equipment and ammunition on board earlier this March.
But with the Royal Saudi Air Force controlling Yemeni air space since Thursday 26 March, it is unlikely that Houthi planes with Yemeni or Iranian pilots will stand much of a change. In fact, according to several sources on 30 March 2015 the Saudi-led air strikes have destroyed at least 11 fighter jets of the Houthi rebels. The rebels got quite a prize in the third week of March, capturing Yemeni Air Force Al Anad Airbase with apparently up to 21 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets. Some sources say that the Houthis never had more than 16 combat aircraft in total, so the exact details are somewhat sketchy.
The Albanian Air Force enters 2015 with fresh blood and is destined to be at its full strength at the end of the year. The last of four new Airbus Helicopters AS532AL Cougar entered the Balkan country’s air weapon’s service just before Christmas, while a pair of EC145s is scheduled to arrive fairly soon.
The final AS532AL of the Forca Ajrore was delivered in November 2014. Two months after delivery it is now a full integral part of the air units at Färke Airbase south of the centre of the capital of Tirana. The choppers have different tasks, one is configured for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), one for VIP flights and two for regular transport tasks. Still coming are a pair or Eurocopter EC145s, for rescue and disaster relief operations with planned entry into service in 2015.
Originally Albania ordered five Cougars, but one crashed before it ever arrived. A pair of EC145s will now come instead, to perform utility tasks and to deploy for disaster relief operations.
With many new choppers the Albanian Air Force can call itself finally relatively modern, although its size is small. At the end of the year no more than 24 helicopters are planned to be operational, divided over only two airbases: Färke and Kuçovë. Former airbases have been left to decay or have been destroyed, including the ones in Lezha and Vlora. The latter was once home to the Air Force Academy.
Jet Fighter Force
Kuçovë is most famous for its open air storage of tens of dozens of the old glory of the Albanian jet fighter force. The spearhead – a dozen Chengdu F-7s that are Chinese-made copies of the MiG-21 – were already last flown in 2002. In 2005 the entire remaining fighting force was put to rest and the Forca Ajrore became a shadow of itself – about 30 years ago it could field more than 140 aircraft.
Some of that old glory remains at Kuçovë Airbase, where the old fighter jets are line up like that could be called back to duty at any given time. They even get visited every once in a while by some members of the country’s leadership. At Kuçovë they see some of the at least 80 Shenyang F-5 and 20 FT-5s, equivalents to Russian-made MiG-17s, that Albania received in the former century. More than 70 Shenyang F-6/FT-6s (MiG-19 copies) were flown by the Albanians as well. Some of the 60 or so MiG-15s are also still present at Kuçovë. They will probably never return to active duty, although some aviation enthousiasts still have hope hope for some of the Nanchang CJ-6 training aircraft and the Harbin Y-5 copies of the legendary Antonov AN-2.
Stripped from all fixed-wing aircraft the renewed Albanian Air Force does take its current tasks very seriously, although one does not need much imagination to picture the Forca Ajrore being able to defend its airspace in a way that NATO really would have like, after Albania became a full member of the alliance in 2009. But it is a fact that the Albanian Air Force has never before has been so modern as it is today, and in a cash-stripped country with no substantial economic improvements visible soon that is an achievement as well.