report by Mike Danks,
The North Sea was alive with aerial combat and air refuelling as 2017s Frisian Flag(FF) and European Air Refuelling Training (EART) were in action for two weeks, from 27th March to 7th April. The focus for the exercise is interoperability between the NATO partners and to enhance leadership skills preparing pilots for future conflicts.This year I decided to go for two days, in the first week, to Leeuwarden Air Base to photograph the participants of Frisian Flag. As this exercise has become more and more popular for aviation enthusiasts the setup of parking areas at the spottersplaats, runway 05, has meant it is now a really relaxing place to head to.
As this exercise is comparable to the larger Red Flag and Maple Flag exercises in northern America it attracts air forces from the European continent who do not need to spend as much of their reduced budgets on taking aircraft and personnel the long distances across the Atlantic.
As with the previous two years the USAF ANG sent 12 x F15Cs to participate in Frisian Flag. These aircraft are part of a Theatre Security Package (TSP) and spend six months in Europe and start their time at FF. The 159th FW, Louisiana ANG and 125th FW, Florida ANG sent 6 F15Cs each. The 159th FW took control of the first three months of the TSP with FF being their opening exercise whilst in Europe.
The other participants based at Leeuwarden were: –
- 5 x F-16AM Portuguese Air Force Esq201/301
- 10 x EF2000 Luftwaffe TLG31
- 4 x M2000D AdlA 003
- 7 x F-16AM Belgian Air Force 2 Wing
- 6 x GR4 Royal Air Force Marham Wing
- 12 x F-16AM Royal Netherlands Air Force 322/313 Sqn
- 1 x FA20 Cobham
There are two missions per day with aircraft departing Leeuwarden over an hour period. These aircraft then participate in a variety of scenarios ranging from air to air combat, protection of high value and ground attack assets. These missions were supported by the EART assets that were departing Eindhoven before the first wave of jets departed Leeuwarden. This extends the missions and allows red air assets to come back into the fight if they are ‘shot down’. The other supporting aircraft were an FA20 from Cobham PLC and a NATO E-3A operating from Geilenkirchen.
The FA20 is a key asset in these exercises and is utilised in different ways during FF. This is in the form of the traditional radar and communications jamming through to false target generation. This enhances the exercise to allow it to be even more realistic, thus providing greater training outcomes. Each of the participating aircraft is fitted with an Air Combat Manoeuvring and Instrumentation pod. These pods link with the FA20 and ground stations allowing the pilots and commanders to view and discuss the entire battle during the post-flight debrief.
Yet again Frisian Flag didn’t disappoint with the amount and variety of aircraft. Also some of the departures were particularly spectacular banking to avoid the village of Marssum. This exercise will continue a mainstay of the Global Air Power calendar.