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Blue Air versus Red Air; Leeuwarden, October 10, 2002

International Exercise Frisian Flag; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

During the exercise Frisian Flag all aspects of modern warfare are practiced in a realistic scenario. Several participants from NATO countries fly together with the Dutch F-16 units. The Frisian Flag participants are Blue Air which is flying from Leeuwarden Air Base. The aggressors are Red Air and will fly from Twenthe Air Base.

The exercise Frisian Flag 2002 took place this year in the period from October 7, 2002 until October 18, 2002. During this period, more than 35 aircraft will train extensively on various aspects such as air defense and attacking heavily defended land targets. The exercise Frisian Flag has been held since 1992. The exercise was then not yet held under the current name. From 1992, the exercise was held under the name DIATIT (Diana Tactical Integrated Training). The exercise is organized by the no 323 Squadron which is based at Leeuwarden Air Base. From 1999, the current name Frisian Flag is used for this large international exercise. This was due to the growing interest from abroad for this exercise. Most scenarios which are executed during the exercise will take place over the North Sea and the Cornfield Range at Vlieland. At the Vliehors Range at Vlieland all ground attack missions will be carried out. At this location aircraft can use practice bombs of up to 2000lb. The air defense operations will be flown over the North Sea. Above sea planes are allowed to break the sound barrier during practice battles. For guiding the air battles and coordinating the attacks, an E-3 Sentry is during the exercise stationed at Leeuwarden. This aircraft is coming from the German airbase Geilenkirchen. The aircraft is part of the NATO surveillance wing which is responsible for monitoring the European airspace.

Blue Air was stationed at Leeuwarden Air Base during Frisian Flag 2002. These groups of aircraft are the actual participants in the exercise. Blue Air is made up of a number of air defense fighters and a number of ground attack fighters. The Dutch units are divided over these roles as well. The no 322 Squadron and the no 323 Squadron participated in the exercise in the air defense role. The aircraft fly from Leeuwarden and are flying traditionally escort missions and air defense missions. The no 311 Squadron and the no 312 Squadron fly attack missions during the exercise. The units from Leeuwarden and Volkel are for that reason therefore configured in different ways.

The units from Leeuwarden usually fly with two AIM-9 Sidewinder and two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles on the wings. In addition aircraft carry two drop tanks under the wings and an ALQ-131 ECM pod for self-defense on the centerline hard point. The ground attack configuration typically consists of two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles at the wing tips and two drop tanks under the wings. In this configuration, the F-16 carries the ALQ-131 ECM pod for self-defense under the center line. This pod transmits electronic signals to jam enemy radar and communications. Under the wings the F-16s carry several bombs ranging from 250 to 500 pounds of the type Mk81 and Mk82. Because the exercise is not flown with sharp weapons, the Dutch F-16s used in this situation the BDU-33 practice bombs. These bombs are small and are made of concrete. The bombs follow the same glide path as the conventional NATO bombs. After dropping from the F-16 the bomb has therefore the same features as the live weapons.

The US Air Force is participating at Frisian Flag with six F-15C Eagles. The F-15s are taking part in the exercise in the air defense role. The F-15s are from the British airbase RAF Lakenheath in England. The F-15s are there assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron which is part of the 48th Fighter Wing. The F-15 was originally developed for the full air defense and interception role. The aircraft was in the 80s and 90s the most dominant fighter in the world. The F-15 Eagle is an aircraft which can be configured with four AIM-9 Sidewinders and four AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. Besides the Americans, also the Finns participated in the exercise. The Finns were flying with the American F/A-18C Hornet. The Finnish Hornets can only be configured in the air defense role. The Finnish Air Force participates in Frisian Flag with all three units. These units are HävLLv 11 from Rovaniemi known as the Lapin Lennosto Wing, HävLLv 21 from Tampere Pirkkala known as the Satakunnan Lennosto Wing and HävLLv 31 from Kuopio Rissala known as the Karjalan Lennosto Wing. There were a total of six Finnish F/A-18s at Leeuwarden. Each unit is represented with two aircraft. The last Frisian Flag participant which flew along in the exercise at Blue Air is the French Mirage F1CR. These aircraft are from ER01.033. This unit is stationed at the French airbase of Reims-Champagne in northern France. The Mirage F1CR is a photo reconnaissance aircraft, but can also be configured as a fighter-bomber. During Frisian Flag the French aircraft flew in the offensive role. The Mirages were therefore equipped with the BDU-33 practice bombs under the fuselage.

From Twenthe Air Base Red Air will operate during the exercise. The aircraft of red Air will occur during the exercise as the aggressors for the participants at Leeuwarden Air Base. This does not mean that participation in Frisian Flag for these units is not a good practice. The pilots of Red Air will assess the comprehensive missions to learn lessons from it. The units at Twenthe will next to attacking enemy planes also attack some ground targets which are protected by aircraft of Blue Air. There are several scenarios which are trained in two weeks. The Dutch units which participate from Twenthe are the no 313 Squadron and the no 315 Squadron. The no 313 Squadron will operate during the exercise in the air defense role and will escort ground attack fighters of Red Air. The F-16s of the no 315 Squadron are operating in the offensive role. These F-16s will attack installations of Blue Air to disrupt the exercise of Blue Air. The fact that the F-16s from Red Air fly from another airbase makes it an element of surprise. At Twenthe are besides the Dutch F-16s also Swedish Saab JA-37DI Viggens fighter stationed for Red Air. The Viggens are from Frösön in the far north of Sweden. The Viggens are assigned to F4. The JA-37DI Viggen is a large aircraft. The aircraft is used in Sweden as an interceptor. The aircraft is not suitable as an air superiority fighter due to its size. There were at Twenthe four Viggens stationed during the exercise Frisian Flag.

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