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The Strategic Perspectives; Leeuwarden, March 28, 2017

International Exercise Frisian Flag, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

In the period from March 27th until April 7th, 2017, the exercise Frisian Flag 2017 was held at Leeuwarden Air Base. During this exercise tactical scenarios were practiced in a multi-national cooperation. The worldwide strategic prospects that lie at the basis of the exercise have changed dramatically in recent decades.

The exercise Frisian Flag annually attracts participants from several countries to Leeuwarden Air Base to train together for a two-week period in a unique training environment. Frisian Flag is an exercise of an enormous size. Intensive missions are daily flown by over 50 warplanes which will be launched twice a day from Leeuwarden Air Base. Colonel Danny Traas is the commander of Leeuwarden Air Base and explains that there are a total of over 1,600 people involved in the daily operations to deliver the maximum amount of airpower. The assignment of all these people who come from different countries is not easy. Colonel Traas explains why this corporation is widely practiced and what the strategic values of this exercise are. According to Traas the role of the army has changed in the recent years. There is not a single enemy anymore which is continuously on the edge of war and there is no longer fought against single countries. Aircraft are not only used anymore to attack strategic and tactical objects or to protect ground troops. The weight of the operations has been moved from a Cold War situation to an era where mobility and rapid deployment are required. The conflicts are no longer in countries far from Europe. More often there are conflicts around Europe, such as in the Middle East and North Africa. The threats around Europe have increased dramatically in the recent years. The deteriorating relation with Russia in the recent years is one example of this changing environment.

With airpower alone a situation or war cannot be resolved or won, but airpower is really a must to win a fight against an enemy. For this reason it is important that Europe and its partners deliver joint airpower to defend the European interests and security. It is therefore very important that the European units train together in delivering that airpower so they can act together when they are deployed by the European politics. Operating in coalitions is the only way to deal with conflicts and to end wars. The European countries are dependent on each other in times of budget

cuts and cannot occur without each other. Compared to the Cold War where continuous readiness was needed, nowadays short-term deployments are the standard. This means that the entire army should be able to move to a crisis area within 24 to 48 hours. For this reason it is important that this multinational cooperation is intensively trained during exercises like Frisian Flag. There is in a real situation no time to negotiate to plan an action; units must be able to take action immediate anywhere in the world. Therefore, the European armies need to train continuously to be ready for a deployment at any time. Also attacks should be executed effective nowadays. The politicians and the people of the European Union don’t accept the collateral damage with civilian casualties during bombardments.

Frisian Flag provides the participants a unique environment in which they can train. Every day the participants are trained on their home base with only four to eight aircraft. This is the basic training which is practiced daily by each fighter pilot. During the larger exercises this knowledge is used as a basis for further development of the pilot. During Frisian Flag pilots are trained on a large scale with more than 50 aircraft in a realistic scenario. The knowledge, skills and leadership capabilities of the pilots will be improved drastically during an exercise like Frisian Flag. During practice on this scale, the different types of aircraft are used in such a way that the strongest features of these aircraft are optimally utilized. Training in a multinational collaboration with all these different types of aircraft is for the participants very intensive, but is also invaluable when the pilots are really deployed in the real world. Leading such kinds of formations is difficult during this training and developing leadership within the participating units is therefore one of the most important aspects of the training. Contemporary missions are simulated during the realistic scenarios. Examples of these scenarios are the recent missions which were flown in the Middle East, North Africa and during the Baltic Air Policing. During Frisian Flag tactics are used which were used during these deployments. However, we also look forward to the tactics which will be used during future deployments according to Traas.

The advantage of the location of Leeuwarden is that it is located closely to several major European training facilities. Leeuwarden is close to the Vliehors Range which can be used for bombing practice and it is located close to the combat areas above sea. In this way traffic is able to take-off quickly and it can move rapidly towards the sea, making the sound remains minimal in the area over land. Scenarios can be practiced unlimited above sea without bothering the people who live in the area of the airbase. Colonel Traas lists again the most important aspects which will be covered during the exercise Frisian Flag. The key is to train in a modern Air Combat environment. This aspect is complemented by promoting leadership, initiative and self-discipline. The lessons which are learned will carefully be assessed after each mission and tactics are developed. Finally Traas indicates that especially the relationships which are built up and maintained between the participating countries are the key factor of success during this exercise. During the exercise airpower will be provided, maintained and trained at a high level. Pilots know are able to count upon each other when it is really needed. They will therefore go through fire for each other and that is exactly what matters in this European cooperation during Frisian Flag. In the recent years, the Dutch Air Force only trained in providing Close Air Support due to the many missions which were flown in this context. Now the Royal Netherlands Air Force comes into calmer waters, it is time to train intensively on the other aspects of modern warfare. Frisian Flag will be continued in the coming years to keep the pilots trained for the future.

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