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International Exercise Frisian Flag 2010; Leeuwarden April 12, 2010

Warfare in a Realistic Scenario; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On April 12, 2010 I was there to witness the start of the exercise Frisian Flag. This year it promised to be a great spectacle with a large amount of foreign participants. In all, over sixty aircraft will participate in this international exercise at the airbase Leeuwarden in Friesland.

The international exercise Frisian Flag 2010 will take place in the period from Monday, April 12 until Friday, April 23. Next to the Dutch Air Force also the American, Polish, German, Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish Air Force are participating in the exercise at Leeuwarden Airbase. The pilots will practice both air to air missions and ground support missions in a period of two weeks. The purpose of the exercise is to train pilots participating in the execution of complex missions in an international context. These are scenarios of future NATO Response Force (NRF) deployment and it is specially focused on the missions in Afghanistan. Most of the missions during Frisian Flag 2010 are flown over the training areas above the North Sea which are conducted for air defense missions. Also they will use the Vliehors Shooting Range at Vlieland, the military training area Marnewaard and other parts in the northern part of The Netherlands. The Participating aircraft will provide air support to ground units of the army and navy. During the exercise, the pilots are working together with so-called Forward Air Controllers of the Royal Netherlands Army and Royal Netherlands Navy and its ships. Soldiers on the ground will give instructions by radio to the pilots on the precise location of targets.

The Dutch air force operates with twelve F-16’s during this exercise. The F-16's are from Leeuwarden itself and from Volkel airbase in Brabant. The U.S. Air Force will sent eight F-15C's, which are based at the U.S. base of RAF Lakenheath in England. The Polish Air Force will participate for the first time in this exercise and they fly with five of their newest F-16’s. The German Air Force was represented with six F-4 Phantoms from the German Wittmundhafen. Furthermore, this year a big delegation of northern part of Europe is present. The Norwegians join it with as many as eight F-16’s, the Swedes and Finns with seven Gripens with six F-18's. New this year is the participation of the team which is specialized in Electronic Warfare. They have radar

and communication systems which can disturb enemy communication from a ground location. Also a PATRIOT air defense system of the Group Guided Weapons will take part in the exercise. The mobile battle center and air control of the Air Operations and Control Station (AOCS) from Nieuw Millingen is present to lead all the movements and strategic decisions in the exercise. The National Data Link Management Cell will participate with the support of data link systems.

The weather today was really perfect. The sun was shining and we did not suffer too much from the heat haze that hangs above the runway. The first F-16 was already waiting at the head of the runway when I arrived at nine AM. This was the J-066 which was waiting to perform a test flight. The first participants of the exercise started their engines after thirty minutes of waiting. It would really be a huge mass take-off of more than fifty aircraft. First there was a large group of Dutch F-16’s at the head of the runway. First the Volkel F-16's, followed by the Leeuwarden F-16’s. It did not take too long before also the Norwegian F-16’s and the German Phantoms appeared at the opposite site of the airfield. The Swedish Gripens and the Finnish Hornets appeared at the south side. It took about half an hour before all the aircraft were airborne. It seemed that the Polish aircraft were not involved in this mission. The Polish President was killed a day before in an aircraft crash. But also the Polish arrived at the head of the runway after the take-off of the Scandinavian aircraft. I was very happy to see the Polish dual F-16. For me this was one of the highlights of Frisian Flag. After the departure of the Polish Vipers it became quiet for one hour.

The first aircraft came back for landing one hour after the last take-off. The German Phantoms and Swedish Gripens were the first aircraft which arrived. It was very easy to spot the German Phantoms from a great distance because of the characteristic smoke trails behind the aircraft. The Gripens flew very high when they came in; this was not beneficial for the pictures. The German Phantoms were again old-fashioned spectacular during their landing. The Polish F-16’s came back together with a group of Dutch F-16's. The morning flight was almost over, only a Norwegian Falcon 70 and some Dutch F-16’s had still not come back. The F-15's from Lakenheath arrived right after the morning mission. There were initially four F-15’s present at Leeuwarden, but at the beginning of the afternoon another three F-15’s arrived including a dual F-15. At the end of the afternoon also an eight aircraft arrived, also this one was a dual F-15.

The exercise Frisian Flag this year was after four days on Thursday, April 15 disrupted by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The volcano spewed ash into the sky to a height of over ten kilometers during its eruption. With a northwest wind this cloud flew off right over Europe. The European Aviation Authority has therefore decided to close the airspace until further notice in many European countries. Aircraft safety is not guaranteed because research in the past has shown that engines can be damaged by the ash. When it is under high pressure and high temperature, the ash residue is formed into glass on the fan blades. This decision had a big impact on the Frisian Flag Exercise because ultimately it was decided that the exercise was canceled. Two Finnish F-18's were damaged by the ash cloud as they flew through it over the North Sea. The whole issue with the ash cloud has grounded all the air traffic in Europe. This had huge economic implications for aviation in general. The cancellation of the Frisian Flag exercise is a black page in the book of this annual exercise. Luckily I was there on the first day. I was able to capture all the participating aircraft on photo. With a good feeling and unsuspecting of what was to come I left to Germany to Wittmund for the exercise Brilliant Ardent 2010.

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