On 01 January 2021, Bulgaria joined the NSPA Helicopter Support Partnership to benefit from its maintenance support services. The Bulgarian Air Force operates a fleet of twelve COUGAR multipurpose helicopters requiring urgent maintenance operations. After becoming a participating nation of the partnership and given the urgency, NSPA has inducted the first helicopter against existing contracts. The maintenance services for the rest of the fleet will be contracted through international competition. In July, NSPA delivered the first COUGAR to the Airbus facilities at Albacete, Spain.
The transportation to the overhaul facility included the use of a low profile trailer to move the multipurpose helicopter by road from Bulgaria to Spain in an operation that lasted several days. NSPA staff provided field assistance and technical support to prepare the helicopter for extraction. The helicopter overhaul induction started after the arrival. The initial step of the process involves the removal of all the major components (dynamic components, engines, etc.) that require repair work as part of the overhaul process.
The Bulgarian Air Force operates its COUGAR multipurpose helicopters fleet from its main base located at Krumovo, in southern Bulgaria. The COUGAR helicopter is a twin-engine, medium-weight, multipurpose helicopter developed by Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters today). The helicopter can lift 4.5 tons by means of a sling and can be configured to perform a wide range of missions, including Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). The acquisition of these helicopters was a direct result of the reforms undertaken by Bulgaria when becoming a NATO member in March 2004. The COUGAR are interoperable helicopters with those used by other NATO forces in Europe.
The NSPO Helicopter Support Partnership is a multinational cooperation mechanism counts 11 NATO Nations, from which Bulgaria was the latest to join. Through Support Partnerships, Participating Nations combine their efforts from the outset by consolidating procurement activity, enhancing service levels and reducing the logistics footprint while taking full advantage of economies of scale. After joining the Helicopter Support Partnership, Bulgaria is directly benefiting from that consolidation, satisfying an urgent requirement within a very short reaction time.