Exercise Report : Frisian Flag 2010
During April 12-23, 2010, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) organized another edition of exercise Frisian Flag. Giampaolo Tonello provides the photos of the participating fighters operating from Leeuwarden AB on the second flying day, April 13.
The reoccuring Frisian Flag exercise is the largest air live exercise held in the Netherlands. As the name suggests, the exercise is flown from Leeuwarden Air Base in the northern province of Friesland and can be regarded as a smaller version of the Red, Green and Maple Flag exercises in North America. Leeuwarden AB is one of two F-16 Main Operating Bases of the Koninklijke Luchtmacht - KLu (Royal Netherlands Air Force - RNLAF). It is home to RNLAF 322 Squadron and 323 TACTES Squadron flying F-16 MLU fighters, as well as 303 SAR Squadron flying the AB-412SP helicopter. 323 Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardisation (TACTES) Squadron organises Frisian Flag. The exercise's history dates back to 1992, but was first named Frisian Flag in 1999.
Open to NATO member and Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries, Leeuwarden becomes an attractive destination for aircraft spotters during the exercise's flying days, as Sweden and Finland regularly take part and join NATO air forces. See also our 2005 Frisian Flag report. This year was no exception, with seven Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripens and six Finnish Air Force F-18C Hornets. For others it is the regular attendance of the smoking F-4F from the Luftwaffe's last Phantom wing, Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen" Wittmund. But for F-16 fans, it was also worth a visit, with Polish Air Force F-16C/D Block 52+ fighters joining the Dutch and Norwegian MLU Falcons. In addition to 12 of the Leeuwarden based F-16s of 322 and 323 Squadron, the Royal Netherlands Air Force also sent six F-16AMs from Volkel's 311, 312, and 313 Squadrons. The Royal Norwegian Air Force sent eight F-16AMs to the exercise, from 331 and 332 Squadron. Also, U.S. Air Forces Europe participated with 8 F-15C/D Eagles from RAF Lakenheath.
Also deployed to Leeuwarden for the exercise was a single DA-20 Falcon Jet ECM aircraft from Norway's Forsvarets Elektronisk Krigføring Støttesenter (FEKS - Defence Electronic Warfare Support Centre) for airborne jamming. One AB-412SP helicopter of the Leeuwarden 303 SAR Squadron also took part in the exercise to practise slow-mover intercepts. Flying from their home bases, an E-3A AWACS from the NATO AEW&CF at Geilenkirchen, and a KC-135R Stratotanker from the USAF 100th ARW at RAF Mildenhall, supported some of the missions.
Just like its American big brother, exercise Frisian Flag uses scenarios that over the course of the exercise become more complex. Participants are assigned to either the Blue or Red Forces, depending on the day's scenario. The Blue Forces' task is to carry out their offensive missions, while the Red Forces defend.
Starting on April 12 and scheduled to last until April 23, the exercise schedule included 9 flying days. For each flying day, one morning and one afternoon mission with 48 aircraft was scheduled. With a total inventory of nearly 60 fighters of five different types from seven countries, one can easily imagine the amount of Composite Air Operations and Air Combat Maneuvers training, including Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT). Frisian Flag missions were flown over the northern part of the Netherlands and in Temporary Reserved Airspace areas over the North Sea. The area available to the exercise was more confined than in previous editions due to the NATO Response Force Brilliant Ardent 2010 exercise taking place over Northern Germany during the same period. Again the nearby Cornfield Range on the island of Vlieland and the Marnewaard area were used for air-to-surface missions. The latter is large training area used by the Dutch army, which also took part in Frisian Flag by providing four Forward Air Control teams, or Joint Tactical Air Controllers as they are now commonly referred too. With the importance of effective and safe Close Air Support in current and to all probability also future NATO operations, training with ground forward air controllers has become essential. Also Royal Netherlands Navy ships participated, directing the aircraft to their targets by radio.
Of course the air campaign simulation would not be complete without the threat of ground-based air defences. In addition to a RNLAF Patriot missile system, this year's edition also added a ROLAND-FGR radar truck and the Russian-built, fairly proliferated SA-6 system from the Multi-national Aircrew Electronic Warfare Tactics Facility (MAEWTF). Furthermore the Link-16 datalink was used to add virtual friends or foes.
Although the exercise does not include live weapons firing, aircraft did carry air-to-air training missiles, laser designator/targeting pods, or ECM pods on some missions.
Frisian Flag had all the necessary ingredients for a successful edition, even the weather. But as you have probably heard, the ash cloud from the Eyjahjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland spread over Europe leading to the closure of airspace. On Thursday, April 15, the morning mission was cancelled right after take-off. On Tuesday, April 20, the RNLAF resumed flying. The foreign participants however decided to return home as soon as possible, because there was still the possibility of further disruption of air traffic.
Photos by Giampaolo Tonello ( view portfolio )