The Dutch Ministry of Defence (MOD) has revealed it will replace the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) ageing fleet of Aérospatiale AS532U2 Cougar medium-lift tactical transport helicopters – which are predominately used to support Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions – with 14 new-build Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal multi-mission tactical rotorcraft.
An announcement regarding the purchase of the 14 H225Ms was made by State Secretary Christophe van der Maat to the Dutch House of Representatives on June 5. As per the current schedule, H225M deliveries to the Netherlands will begin in 2028 – two years before the RNLAF's 12-strong AS532U2 Cougar fleet is expected to be withdrawn from operational use in 2030 – with the new helicopters being operated from Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the country’s North Brabant province.
The Cougar entered operational service with the RNLAF’s No 300 Squadron ‘Wildcats’ in May 1996, with 17 examples delivered in total. In 2011, the RNLAF moved to deactivate the ‘Wildcats’ and withdraw the AS532U2 from operational use due to budget cuts, but this decision was reversed that same year when a search-and-rescue (SAR) capability gap was identified following the retirement of both the Air Force’s Agusta-Bell AB412SP and the Navy’s AgustaWestland SH-14D Lynx fleet and increasing delays to the introduction of the NHIndustries NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH). Of the 17 Cougars delivered, just 12 examples returned to operational service.
No 300 Squadron will continue operating the AS532U2 – which is currently being modernised to extend its viable service life – until the fleet is retired from operational use in 2030. However, prior to the Cougar’s retirement, No 300 Squadron will be reformed into a SOF air unit to meet demands from the Dutch MOD to strengthen its operational SOF capacity. In a press release, the Dutch MOD said: “The purchase in one of the measures with which the MOD is converting a squadron of the Defense Helicopter Command into a SOF [unit]. Strengthening SOF capacity for operations on land and at sea is a spearhead of the Defence Memorandum published last year.”