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International Exercise Frisian Flag; Leeuwarden, April 11 – 22, 2016

Practicing on a Large Scale; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The annual exercise Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden Air Base is the largest exercise which is organized by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. In total, nearly 70 fighters from different countries participated in this exercise. There daily realistic scenarios are flown in an international context above the North Sea and the Wadden Sea.

During the exercise Frisian Flag it is important that pilots from different countries train together. They get used to each other in this way. This is necessary because in a real mission, they always work together with one or more coalition partners, such as during the current mission over Iraq and eastern Syria. The Dutch F-16s are bombing IS targets to hit the terroristic organization in the heart. Acting together also requires training together. Combat pilots will train during the exercise at Leeuwarden Air Base to operate together during large and complex missions. It is intended to become a team during coalition attacks with members from eight different countries. In addition, the focus of the exercise is on leadership. The pilots prepare themselves to act decisively in mission areas such as Iraq and Syria, but also for use in their own countries. The focus of the exercise is on international cooperation and especially on leadership. The nearly 70 aircraft which are participating will not only fly over the Netherlands, but also over Germany and Denmark. Daily 50 aircraft depart from Leeuwarden flying two waves each day. The airspace authorities of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands will work closely together during the actions. The leadership in the exercise area was owned by the so-called Control and Reporting Centre (CRC). Dutch and German military combat leaders will lead the actions during the exercise. An AWACS radar aircraft from the NATO airbase Geilenkirchen will support the CRC with radar images and on-board combat leaders. Simultaneously with Frisian Flag an international tanker exercise was held under the name European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven Air Base.

During this edition of Frisian Flag, there were again a lot of foreign fighters which participated in the exercise. In total, nearly 70 fighters would participate in the exercise at Leeuwarden. The Frisian airbase is therefore in this period very busy with taking off and landing aircraft. The Royal Netherlands Air Force would participate with fourteen

F-16AM/BM fighters. Six aircraft were from the Dutch airbase Volkel Air from the no 312 and no 313 Squadron. The remaining eight Dutch F-16s were of the no 322 Squadron which is stationed at Leeuwarden Air Base. Besides the Dutch Air Force, also the Belgian Air Force participated with eight F-16s during the exercise. Four planes were from the 2 Wing from Florennes and four planes were from the 10 Wing in Kleine-Brogel. Poland also participated in the exercise with the F-16C Fighting Falcon. There flew a total of six Polish fighters along during the missions. The Polish F-16s were of the 31. Baza Lotnicza Taktycznego (31.BLT) which is stationed at Poznan in Poland. Two of the Polish F-16s had Tiger markings on the tail which was a leftover of last year’s Tiger Meet. The Finns would participate during Frisian Flag with six F-18C Hornets. The aircraft were from Rovaniemi where the planes fly at HävLLv 11 and from Kuopio/Rissala where the HävLLv 31 is based. The Finnish Hornets are the only participants who have a very steep approach pattern during the landing. The aircraft are in this way able to land on the very short runways in Finland.

The French Air Force would participate during Frisian Flag with five Mirage 2000Ds. The Mirage 2000D is the attack version of the Mirage 2000 and is stationed at the French airbase Nancy. The aircraft are assigned to Escadron de Chasse 3 (EC00.003). One of the Mirages which participated had commemoration markings on the tail of the disaster during the TLP at Albacete in 2015. During this accident a Greek F-16 crashed on the flight line where the French Mirages were parked. The Greek logo on the tail of the Mirage stands for the Greek pilot which died. The nine stars which are shown are symbolizing the nine French maintenance technicians who died on the flight line. The Germans would participate during Frisian Flag 2016 with as much as ten EF2000 Eurofighters. The aircraft which participated during the exercise were all from the German airbase Nörvenich. The Eurofighters are flying at this airbase at the Tactisches Luftwaffe Geschwader 31 (TLG-31). The British flew along with six Tornado GR4 fighter-bombers during Frisian Flag. The aircraft of the British were from the British airbase RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. In addition to the warplanes also a number of ECM aircraft would fly along during the exercise. The Norwegians sent for this task a Falcon 20ECM and the Netherlands would fly with a C-130 Hercules in the ECM role. The civil company Cobham would participate with a Falcon 20ECM.

The big stars of this year’s edition of Frisian Flag were the American F-15s. A total of twelve F-15s of the American Air National Guard were flown from the United States to Europe. In total, eight aircraft were stationed in Leeuwarden during the exercise Frisian Flag. The aircraft were from the ANG of California and Massachusetts. Four F-15s Stayed behind in Iceland at Keflavik for the Iceland Air Policing mission. The aircraft will stay more than six months in Europe during this deployment. After the exercise Frisian Flag the F-15s will fly to Bulgaria where the aircraft will fly from Graf Ignatievo. The four planes which are in Iceland will also fly to Bulgaria in a later stage. The participating F-15s were part of the American Theater Security Package (TSP). The Americans will give in this way support for their NATO partners in Europe. The aircraft will primarily support the eastern borders of Europe. Mainly patrolling the Russian borders in the Black Sea region and in the Baltic States is an important goal of American mission. The TSP is performed during the mission Operation Atlantic Resolve, which is at this moment for more than a year ongoing. At Leeuwarden the ANG units will train with European partners. This is very much needed, because the ANG units do not have much experience outside the United States. Many procedures in Europe are, unlike in the United States different. Also the airspace in Europe is much busier compared to America.

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