COOPERATIVE KEY 2005 - Exercise bases Graf Ignatievo and Krumovo

From the 24th of August through the 5th of September 2005

 (with live flying taking place August 27 through September 4)


The multinational exercise is designed to enhance interoperability of NATO and partner nation air forces through cooperation and familiarization of the organization's procedures. Cooperative Key, first conducted in 1996, is designed as a combination air exercise, command post and live exercise. Allied Component Command headquarters Izmir is conducting the exercise.

"This exercise affords us a great opportunity to practice peace support operations in a combined scenario," said Lt. Col. Jim Fike, NATO medical exercise director and 401st Expeditionary Medical Squadron commander. “It’s a chance for our people, no matter what their rank or specialty, to work with their counterparts from other nations and gain invaluable experience while bolstering our NATO capabilities.

“In any exercise you get unit and individual training, but on a bigger scale is the ability to exercise in a larger coalition environment,” Colonel Fike said. “It’s a chance for operators to find out things that are and aren’t compatible.”

The exercise primarily takes place at two air bases in the central region of Bulgaria -- Graf Ignatievo and Krumovo. The scenario, involving about 1,650 servicemembers and more than 60 aircraft, focuses on an ongoing mandated NATO peace support operation. Two fictional former warring factions are in an unstable peace. A NATO-led peace support operation with partner nation participation is in place to enforce the peace and provide humanitarian assistance.

Besides to the 21 participating nations, nine other nations will act as observers. For several of the nations, this is their first time participating in this exercise since becoming members of NATO.

“Bulgaria has the honor for the third time to (hold) the international exercise Cooperative Key. This is a clear expression for us of the successful integration processes in the international security system,” said Bulgarian air force Maj. Gen. Simeon Simeonov, Bulgarian air force headquarters chief of staff. “The exercise is a high responsibility for us being a full NATO member. Such exercises are very useful for everyone and they are a step forward to close relations and friendship among our countries.”


NATO members 

Partnership for Peace (PfP) members

Mediterranean Dialogue partners


Visit of NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

At Krumovo Air Base preparations were also made for the visit of NATO's Secretary General Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. This visit of the Secretary General can be seen as a reward for good performances of the hosting nation and was much appreciated. After the welcoming under severe safety measures there was a visit to a refugee camp and a military hospital with actions took place under the eyes of Mr. de Hoop Scheffer. It is quite an experience, to see all these different nations working together bringing in victims and wounded of all kinds by several helicopters. At certain moment a mass of ´refugees´ was flown in. The Romanian C-130B Hercules landed on the runway delivering refugees to the base which where brought to the refugee camp to be distributed over the tents in the camp. At the same time the air was noisy with approaching helicopters. A pair of Lithuanian and Hungarian Mi-17 brought in refugees and wounded people followed by a pair of Moldovan and Bulgarian Mi-8/17 and a pair of Slovenian and Turkish Cougars. The medical people in the medic camp took care of the wounded very fast but still with grate care. In this way interoperability was shown to the Secretary General while dedicated people showed the best they could.

Press-conference on the 2nd of September 2005 at Krumovo AB with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Brig. Gen. DAVID E. CLARY, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Allied Air Component Command Headquarters (NATO), Izmir, Turkey.

Afterwards the Secretary General complimented every single participant senior standing up in a line with a personal word.

We thank "Allied Component Command headquarters Izmir" for their great support to make these visits possible. The hospitality at Graf Ignatievo and Krumovo was great. We have forgotten the names of all the persons who have helped us with all our wishes, everything was possible and done very friendly.

The authors: Volkert Jan van den Berg, Marinus Dirk Tabak and Joop de Groot.

Photo gallery

(Click on photo to enlarge it)


A mix of Bulgarian fighters started their missions from Graf Ignatievo. Three MiG-29A/UB fighters were defending the sky above the area of operation while other aircraft (MiG-21bis and L-39ZA) where acting in the attack role, as well as Combat Air Patrol (CAP). Fighter bomber operations where conducted by 5 Su-25K/UBK Frogfoot" attack planes. These Su-25 are examples of the very last few in Europe and watching the start and landings of this aircraft is a treat.


An important type of operations to gain experience are the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operations which are refined by those who experienced war time situations. Such operations are vital to recover pilots or other persons from behind enemy lines and are much wanted to practice by most of the participants. For example some Romanian SOCAT Puma's and Bulgarian Mi-24 Hind's or a Hind from the FYROM (Macedonia) or Polish/Hungarian armed Mi-17 Hip's could approach the landing zone fully armed and are special suited for this type of operations. The transported soldiers can be of other nations. Although you may not describe the operations as a contest it can show painfully where you are standing. Both strength or weakness can be recognized and one can learn to improve their own capacities.

As reported the fighters were supplied by Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey while helicopters took part in the exercise from Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Moldova, FYROM, Turkey and the USA operating from Graf Ignatievo as did the observation aircraft from Slovenia.

All operated from Graf Ignatievo and parked at the north-side of the base.

Croatian AF Mi-8MTV-1 H-211 starting its morning mission. It belongs to the 395. Eskadrila Transportnih Helikoptera (ETH) based Split (--) Divulje Barracks.

From the left to the right: Bulgarian AF Mi-17; Macedonian AF Mi-17 and Polish AF Mi-8RL.

The Hungarian AF participated with this Mi-17 701 from MH 86.HE/Szállitó Helikopter Zászlóalj based at Szolnok.

Latvia AF acquired two Mi-8MTV-1s (serials 102 and 103) for SAR duties. They are part of 1 Aviacijas Eskadrila/Helikopteru Posms based at Lielvarde, with a SAR detachment at Riga.

The Air Force of Macedonia sent one Mi-17 and one Mi-24V. Both photos show Mi-17 VAM-302.

Two Mi-17s are active, VAM-302 and VAM-303, both based in Macedonia at Skopje/Petrovec and part of Borbeni Helikoperski Skavadron (BHS).

The crew in front of their Mi-24V 209. Macedonia received 10 Mi-24s, with the serials 201-210.       

All the Mi-24s are based in Macedonia at Skopje/Petrovec and part of Helikoperski Skavadron (HS).

Bulgarian AF Mi-24V 144 parked at Graf Ignatievo. Normally based at nearby Plovdiv/Krumovo. The unit is 1/24 Vertoletna Avio Eskadrila.

The Air Force of Lithuanian has two Mi-8MTV-1s for troop transport and SAR duties, operational from Siaulia-Zokniai with Sraigtaspaniu Esk. 

Three photos of Mi-8MTV-1 02 from Moldova. It arrived from Marculesti and belongs to Mixed Aviation Group.

Four Mi-8RL Hips are known flying with the Polish Air Force.

Both photos show 656 which is based at Kraków/Balice and part of 3. Grupa Poszukiwawzo Ratownicza.

A 55 troops detachment of the Romanian Air Force, with three IAR330L PUMA SOCAT helicopters and a C-130B Hercules, participated. This photo shows IAR330L SOCAT 28 from Esc.952 Elicoptere SOCAT based at Bacau.

Slovenian Army AS532AL Cougar 74 from 151.HEESK. Four are used to transport infantry to the battlefield, but they are also very suitable for extinguishing fires, as they can carry a bag with 3,500 liters of water, and they also prove themselves in more demanding rescue tasks.

More than 50 Airmen, along with two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters from the 56th Rescue Squadron at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, made the trip here to bring their special rescue skills to exercise Cooperative Key 05.

Both photos show the HH-60G Pave Hawk with the serial 88-26109/IS. 

Turkish AS532UL 01-2526 from 5 AJÜ A&KK, CSAR version.

Observation aircraft

Operated from Graf Ignatievo Air Base.

Two photos of a Bulgarian AF PC-9M with the serials 668 and 665, both part of Utchebna Avio Eskadrila PC9 and stationed at Dolna Mitropolia (LBPL) 12 Air Base.

PC-9M 67 from Slovania. It belongs to the 152 Letalska eskadrilja (LEESK) and based at Cerklje ob Krki.


Transports from Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine were located at Krumovo Air Base.

An-26B 05 blue from Lithuania. Based at Siauliai-Zokniai/Transporto Eskadrile. Lithuania received 3 An26Bs with the serials 3,4 and 5.

On the ramp at Krumovo AB is Romanian AF C-130B 6166 from Esc.901 Av. Transp. Strategic at Bucuresti/Henri Coanda.

The task of the Ukrainian Air Force was picking up Bulgarian troops and transporting them on a Ukrainian IL- 76MD. Parked on the ramp of Krumova Air Base is IL-76MD 78820, part of the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade (25 TrAB) based at Melitopo.

Slide show

Cooperative Key 2005