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International Exercise Frisian Flag; Leeuwarden April 21, 2009

Two Weeks of Warfare with the Dutch; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The annual Exercise Frisian Flag took place at Leeuwarden airbase in the northern part of the Netherlands from Tuesday, April 14 until Friday, April 24th. The Dutch F-16 pilots are trained during the next two weeks on their own soil in all possible and realistic conflict scenarios.

Also the U.S. Air Force will participate next to the Dutch F-16's with their F-15 Eagle aircrafts. They also fly their Frisian Flag 2009 missions from Leeuwarden airbase. The F-15's from the U.S. Air Force are based at RAF Lakenheath in the eastern part of the UK. During this period of two weeks, the F-16 pilots are getting trained for both air defense missions and close air support to ground troops in a realistic scenario. The main purpose of the exercise is to defend the airspace. The air defense missions are flown at high altitude over the North Sea. Different tactics like close range dogfights and controlled interceptions by AWACS are trained during these missions. The E-3 AWACS will join the exercise from its own base in Geilenkirchen in West Germany. This aircraft will coordinate the air defense missions by guiding the F-16's to their targets. The U.S. Air Force F-15's are the opponents for the Dutch F-16 pilots during the air to air phase of the exercise. The American F-15 is an air superiority fighter and is therefore an excellent opponent for the Dutch F-16 in this scenario. The air to air phase of the exercise is mostly flown by the F-16 pilots from Leeuwarden airbase because their task is defending the airspace.

The other major goal of this exercise is to attack targets on the ground and provide support to ground troops of the Royal Dutch Army and The Royal Dutch Navy. For this part of the exercise the Vliehors Range at Vlieland is used, together with an exercise area in the Marnewaard in the area of Zurich in West Friesland. Forward Air Controllers (FAC) are used during these missions. These Forward Air Controllers are special units of the Army or the Navy specialized in laser designation. The attacking F-16 pilot can see its target easily with this tactic. The communication between the pilot and the ground forces plays a vital role in a real situation. This is necessary to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties during this kind of airstrikes. It is important that the targets are identified by the involved ground forces. For the first time a unit of the Group

Guided Weapons (GGW) from De Peel is present during the exercise. This will give the F-16 pilot a more realistic hostile threat from the ground with their Surface to Air Missiles (SAM). A few Patriot air defense installations are present at the Vliehors range to defend the ground targets. The F-16's should destroy the anti-aircraft batteries first before the planned targets can be eliminated. These operations should be executed with great care because the anti-aircraft batteries are a serious threat for the involved F-16's. This basic scenario of the exercise is particularly important for the participating F-16's from Volkel Airbase.

The weather was beautiful when I arrived at Leeuwarden airbase in the early morning. I saw we had a clear blue sky during this beautiful spring day. I was present at nine am on the spotter's hill at the Bitgummerdijk near the village of Marsum at the west side of the airbase. The wind was blowing from the northeast today and therefore Leeuwarden was operating from runway 06. I was just in time because the first F-16 engines for the exercise started fifteen minutes after my arrival. It would be great today for Dutch standards. There were eight F-16's from Volkel airbase present at this Frisian airbase next to the participating F-16's from Leeuwarden airbase. My main objective of this exercise was to take photographs of the participation of the six American F-15C Eagles. The aircraft are from RAF Lakenheath and are assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron. It promised to be a nice day with much flying activity. There were two Frisian Flag missions planned for today. Today's mission was to attack an air base. Leeuwarden itself would be the target after the departure of all the participating aircraft. I didn't saw much of the airstrikes, because they were performed from a high altitude with laser guided weapons.

The first F-16's appeared at the head of the runway finally after fifteen minutes of waiting. These were the F-16's from Volkel airbase. It was immediately very clear that these aircraft were equipped for air to ground engagement. All the Volkel F-16's were equipped with heavy bombs which were hanging under their wings. Those bombs were from the caliber of 250 to 1000 pound each. Obviously all these bombs were dummies for exercise only. They would be dropped on the exercise targets at the Vliehors Range at the island of Vlieland. This was very nice to see because it isn't common to see these F-16's with such high payloads. The heavy loaded F-16's went airborne with full afterburner for their Frisian Flag mission. The F-15's from RAF Lakenheath finally appeared shortly behind the departed F-16's. These blue-gray aircraft looked beautiful in the bright sunlight. Finally, the Leeuwarden F-16's taxied to the head of the main runway. It became quiet after the departure of all these aircraft for about one and a half hour before the first aircraft would return to Leeuwarden. The Volkel F-16's which were heavy loaded with bombs during their departure came back empty. It was clear that the targets on the range were destroyed successfully. The F-15's flew in a tight formation of four aircraft before entering the break when they came in for landing. The sound of these slow flying Eagles was a wonderful experience. The landing of the F-15's gave me the pictures where I came for.

The afternoon mission would basically be a copy of the morning mission with again a large quantity of Dutch F-16's. The weather in the afternoon was a lot warmer than in the morning session. Photography was much more difficult in the afternoon because of the heat haze. All the aircraft were back at Leeuwarden at four pm and I was able to leave Leeuwarden with many beautiful photo's of the Dutch F-16's and the American F-15's on my memory cards. The number of foreign participants wasn't much this year compared with previous years, but the quality of the photos was really good. Again Frisian Flag was a nice exercise with lots of flying activities.

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