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Frisian Flag  Leeuwarden AB,   22 April 2013

This year, for the tenth time the International Exercise ‘Frisian Flag’ was held at Leeuwarden Airbase. From 15-26 April pilots from different countries trained themselves for two weeks in offensive and defensive missions. The focus of Frisian Flag 2013 was on international cooperation. Not only the use of air weapons, but also the cooperation between International Air Surveillance and Air Traffic Control. Training in an international spectrum is necessary for air defense missions in Afghanistan and over Libya.


Although Frisian Flag 2012 was the largest ever, the participants list of this years edition was just as varied. Over 55 aircraft were temporary based at Leeuwarden Airbase, and about 45 aircraft flew two missions daily. In addition to the two Dutch airbases Leeuwarden and Volkel, the  Belgian Air Component and the Polish Air Force were also represented with F-16s. The German Air Force took part with six Eurofighters and the Royal Swedish Air Force with no less than nine JAS-39 Gripens. After several years absence, the French Air Force participated again. They came with Mirage 2000C’s and Mirage F1CR's.


The RNLAF KDC-10 acted as an airborne tanker during Frisian Flag and an E-3A Sentry AWACS aircraft of NATO Airbase Geilenkirchen watched over the skies. Both in the air and in mission planning the various participating countries worked closely together. The organization of Frisian Flag is at 323 TACTES Squadron. This Leeuwarden squadron has TACTES (Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization) task under his wing and provides both national and international standardization in F-16 operations.


During Frisian Flag, all possible scenarios were trained by different types of aircraft to be prepared on any type of mission. The training scenarios are realistic, but clearly different from, for example the current scenario of supporting ground troops and searching for IED’s in Afghanistan. Missions such as in Afghanistan and over Libya show clearly the importance of international cooperation. In recent years, all foreign missions under NATO mandate saw close collaboration between the armed forces from different countries. For instance the Air Task Force in northern Afghanistan. The Netherlands still takes part in the ISAF mission and supports NATO ground troops through Close Air Support (CAS) and the search for IED’s from Mazar-e-Sharif Airbase with four F-16s.


Another example is Operation Unified Protector. From March till October 2011 RNLAF F-16s flew daily missions from Decimomannu Airbase in Sardinia, which aimed to monitor compliance with the arms embargo and maintaining the no-fly zone over Libya. Besides monitoring the Libyan airspace, the jets also amassed information. With sensors, a ground and sea picture was created to check suspicious vehicles and vessels.


During Frisian Flag also larger and more complex scenarios with high air- and ground threats got the attention. This prepared the fighter pilots optimally for real life operations. Training remains necessary to prepare fighter pilots and ground personnel for a possible deployment within the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of NATO, where the RNLAF is part of.


Frisian Flag missions were flown in the skies of Denmark, Germany and Netherlands. This required close cooperation between airspace control authorities of these three countries. New was the participation of the German mobile Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) that took the Air Surveillance throughout the whole training area on his behalf. In previous editions of Frisian Flag Dutch fighter controllers (of the Air Operations Control Station (AOCS) Nieuw-Milligen) and German fighter controllers from their own country supported various missions. From the mobile CRC German and Dutch fighter controllers performed Air Surveillance from Leeuwarden Air base it self for the first time. Air defense missions, to stop enemy fighters. But also offensive and missions to protect other aircraft, such as a C-130 Hercules or an E-3 Sentry. They were all covered during Frisian Flag 2013. This as well as disabling static and dynamic targets on the ground or at sea. When taking out targets on the ground the fighters worked independently and sometimes in consultation with Army Forward Air Controllers.


On Monday April 22th, we visited Leeuwarden AB to take some shots of the participating aircraft. First we took some shots at the beginning of runway 27 which was used for taxiing to the active runway 24. When all aircraft were airborne we positioned ourselves in the final area of runway 24 to take some landing shots. For the afternoon mission we tried something different. During the departures we took some shots from the edge of the village Marsum. Unfortunately we had some bad luck with the sun, and most of the foreign participants didn't follow the SID as published. For the landing we positioned ourselves in the village Koarnjum and tried to take some shots of the aircraft turning final the runway 24. This was almost a mission impossible. Although the end of the day was a bit disappointing we had a great day, which lots of sunny weather.  (Click here for a full log)




Copyright © 2013 by Rob Hendriks


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