In much the same way as the 'Red Flag' exercises held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, over the course of the exercise, Frisian Flag becomes more and more complex. All participants are assigned to either the 'Blue' or 'Red' forces, with the Blue forces tasking being to carry out offensive missions, whilst the Red forces are assigned to defending the Blue Force targets.
Simulated ground-based air defences during Frisian Flag included RNLAF Patriot missile batteries. As Frisian Flag does not incorporate the use of live weapons, participating aircraft carry inert air-to-air training missiles during missions, together with laser designator/targeting pods and electronic counter-measure (ECM) pods.
The tail of #630 is adorned with markings in honour of the 26th January 2015 crash of a Greek F-16 at the TLP in Albacete
where nine French personnel lost their lives
A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM blasts out of Leeuwarden on the afternoon of 12th April
The Belgian Air Component comprised Fighting Falcons from both 2 Wing at Florrenes and 10 Wing at Kleine-Brogel
Seen on short finals to Runway 24, this F-16 carries a Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) and an AL/ALQ-131 ECM pod
Another Dutch F-16 wearing 323 Sqn markings crosses the threshold
The most modern F-16s operating in Europe, the Block 52 F-16s of the Polish Air Force
Six aircraft from Poznañ/Krzesiny attended this year's Frisian Flag
Aside the RNLAF aircraft, the largest contingent at Frisian Flag 2016 came from the German Luftwaffe, with no less than ten Eurofighters
The participating aircraft all came from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 31 (TLG.31) at Nörvenich
Between the 11th and 22nd April 2016, the annual exercise known as Frisian Flag took place at Leeuwarden Air Base, in the Netherlands. The exercise was first held in 1992 following joint allied air operations over the Balkans, but was not actually named Frisian Flag until 1999. The name ‘Frisian Flag’ was chosen as a reference to various similar exercises that all feature the word ‘Flag’ in their name, such as ‘Red Flag’ (U.S) and ‘Maple Flag’ (Canada). The name ‘Frisian Flag’ obviously containing a reference to the Province of Friesland, the home of Leeuwarden Air Base.
Open to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Partnership for Peace (PfP) members, 2016 saw participating aircraft fly twice-daily missions during the exercise, which is designed to prepare participating nations air forces for conflicts where co-operation is key. It provides the opportunity for countries to hone their skills and cross-fertilise their experiences, with regular Composite Air Operations (COMAO) and Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) missions flown on a daily basis, operations that have already been put to good use in various conflicts such as Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.
Realistic international teamwork; Recent air operations by the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) clearly show the importance of international collaboration. Over the past few years, all of their overseas operations were executed under a NATO mandate, within a multi-national joint and combined environment. Participation of Dutch F-16s in the ISAF mission over Afghanistan ceased in July 2014. From September 2014 until mid-December 2014, four F-16s from the Royal Netherlands Air Force were sent to guard Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian airspace, operating out of Poland. The RNLAF also took part in air operations over Iraq from October 2014 onwards with its Air Task Force- Middle East. From the beginning of February, Syria has also become part of the operation area above the Middle East. In 2017, the RNLAF will be tasked with guarding Baltic airspace once again as part of its NATO mission.
During Exercise Frisian Flag, all capabilities of the various aircraft are employed in order to prepare them for every conceivable type of mission they may encounter. The experience gained in past missions is also integrated into the different exercise scenarios. During Frisian Flag, larger and more complex scenarios are also practised, with a very high threat level for the aircraft, both in the air and on the ground. This helps prepares the fighter pilot optimally for deployment in actual operational theatres. Although for noise-technical reasons much of the RNLAF training is carried out abroad (e.g. in the United States and in Canada), having Leeuwarden Air Base hosting a large-scale exercise such as Frisian Flag is an obvious choice. Leeuwarden air base is located relatively close to the major flying ranges over the North Sea, which limits noise hindrance over land to take-off and landings only.
Although some of the oldest F-16s still flying, the Belgian Air Component still manages to keep a large number airworthy
Frisian Flag 2016
322 TACTESS were the host unit for Frisian Flag 2016
The eight F-15 Eagle aircraft from the 131st Fighter Squadron, Massachusetts Air National Guard (ANG) and the 194th Fighter Squadron, California ANG, brought almost 250 airmen with them in support of FF2016 at Leeuwarden and for Operation Atlantic Resolve. The units, under the designation of the 131st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, along with airmen from Spangdahlem and Ramstein Air Bases in Germany, operated as a Theater Security Package (TSP) to conduct training with its NATO allies and partners. The TSP serves as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which aims to strengthen interoperability and demonstrate U.S commitment to Europe and to deter aggression.
TLG.31 'Boelcke' at Nörvenich was the third Luftwaffe unit to receive the Eurofighter 2000
The Wing replacing their Tornado IDS with the more advanced aircraft
The Finnish Air F-18 Hornet contingent came from HävLLv 11 at Rovaniemi & HävLLv 31 at Kuopio-Rissala
The large dorsal air brake of the F-15 Eagle is shown to good effect as it crosses the runway threshold
Providing the electronic warfare 'threat' was a single Dassault Falcon 20 operated by Cobham PLC from the U.K
F-15C #84-0014 from the 194th Fighter Squadron lines up on the end of the runway on the first afternoon of the exercise
The aircraft is no stranger to European skies, having once been on the strength of the 36th Fighter Wing at Bitburg, Germany
Wearing the markings of ETD 04.003 'Argonne', the afternoon light catches the aircraft as it recovers to Runway 05
The Belgian Air Component included this F-16AM, painted to commemorate 70 years of 349 Squadron
The aircraft is based with 10 wing at Kleine-Brogel
The 10 Wing F-16-Block 52s from the Polish Air Force are the most modern Vipers in Europe
#4058 is seen recovering after the first mission of the exercise in superb weather conditions
The Finnish Air Force followed up their 2015 participation with 11 & 31 Wings six McDonnell-Douglas F-18 Hornets
Recovering after the first mission of the exercise, #84-0016 is an F-15C Eagle from the Massachusetts ANG
The shot above clearly shows how the Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) break up the smooth lines of the F-16
Alongside the five Massachusetts ANG F-15s were three from the California ANG
The Fresno based 144th Fighter Wing brought two C-model Eagles and one D-model to Frisian Flag
This Dutch F-16 is seen on finals to Runway 06
As with many air forces nowadays, the Finnish F-18 Hornets do not wear any squadron markings
'Fightertown Leeuwarden' Organised by 322 Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization (TACTES) Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF), missions were flown from Leeuwarden on a daily basis between 09.30am and 16.00pm, with up to 50 aircraft participating in each wave of aircraft. Scenarios varied from air interdiction missions preventing hostile forces entering designated areas, to attacking specified ground targets in conjunction with forward air controllers (FACs). During the two week exercise, both Dutch and German air combat controllers worked from the mobile control and reporting centre (DCRC) located at Leeuwarden Air Base, with Jetwash Aviation Photos attending Frisian Flag 2016 to report on this year's exercise and its participants.
As with 2015, Frisian Flag saw participation from United States Air National Guard (ANG) units operating in Europe as part of the ongoing Theatre Security Package (TSP) deployments known as operation 'Atlantic Resolve', designed to demonstrate the United States' ongoing commitment to reassure NATO of its collective security and to ensure ongoing stability in the region. Participating ANG units in TSP 16-02 were two F-15 Eagle units from the California and Massachusetts ANG. The two ANG units deployed a total of 12 aircraft to Europe as part of TSP 16-02, with eight aircraft arriving for Frisian Flag and a further four flying directly to Keflavik, Iceland to support NATO's air surveillance mission between 1st and 29th April. Other participating nations in Frisian Flag included the host nation, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom, with almost 70 aircraft in total. The twice-daily missions lasted approximately 1.5 hours on average, with some aircraft extending their loiter-time with the aid of air-to-air refuelling.
The delta wing and the canards below the cockpit are shown to good effect in the rear 3/4 view of #30-58 as it lands at Leeuwarden
For the second year running, U.S Air National Guard units attended Frisian Flag, with aircraft from California and Massachusetts
In 2015, aircraft from the Louisiana and Florida ANG participated in Frisian Flag
During the exercise, aircraft use an area of designated airspace over the North Sea known as Training Areas 01-10 (TRA 01 to TRA 10), with available airspace from ground level up to a ceiling of 55,000ft. In conjunction with the TRAs, the NATO air weapons range at Vleihors (NATO call-sign 'Cornfield') is also used by the participating aircraft, together with the ranges on the northern Dutch coastline at Marnewaard and Waddanzee. During Frisian Flag, Airborne Early Warning and Control was provided by Boeing E-3A AWACS aircraft from the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force at Geilenkirchen, on the Dutch/German border, with air-to-air refuelling support coming from a mixed contingent of tankers based at Eindhoven Air Base as part of the European Air to Air Refuelling Training (EART). Tanker support was provided by a mix of aircraft from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France. The purpose of the EART is to create a realistic training environment to exchange information and practice amongst crews as well as to enable certification processes between tanker and receiver aircraft. The initiative is one important measure in a number of different working strands planned to overcome the EU shortfall on tanker capabilities and allows airmen to improve their skills in air-to-air refuelling in a unique multi-national environment.
The other 'ground unit' at FF2016 was the Armée de l'Air Mirage 2000Ds of 3 Wing based at BA.133 Nancy-Ochey
Still wearing 323 Squadron markings, this RNLAF F-16 lines up for departure
323 Squadron was disbanded at Leeuwarden in November 2014 and resurrected at Edwards AFB as the F-35 OT&E unit
Airborne Early Warning & Control during FF2016 was provided by the NATO AEW&CF Boeing E-3A fleet at Geilenkirchen
Many of the RNLAF Vipers no longer carry any unit markings, as per the aircraft above
This is mainly due to the fact that the dwindling fleet is moved between squadrons and the two F-16 bases at Leeuwarden and Volkel
The RAF Tornados at FF2016 were flown by 9 Squadron crews at RAF Marham
Also seen recovering after the first mission of the exercise is this Luftwaffe Eurofighter 2000A
A total of ten such aircraft from TLG.31 based at Norvenich took part in FF2016
The tail of this Polish 'Viper' is adorned with a Tiger Eye, representing the squadron's inclusion as part of the NATO Tiger community
The 'Home Team' were much in evidence at Frisian Flag, typified by this F-16AM seen powering out of Leeuwarden on 12th April
The other 'mud-movers' involved were six Tornado GR.4s from the Royal Air Force's Marham Wing
The RAF Tornado fleet stopped wearing individual unit markings some time ago, but the crews were believed to be from 9 Squadron
A Finnish FA-18 Hornet is seen carrying an orange inert Sidewinder missile on the starboard outer-wing pylon
This 131st Fighter Squadron Eagle makes up part of a 4-ship flight as it lines up on the hammerhead of Runway 06
#30-87 waits for the rest of its 4-ship flight on 11th April
Visible on the port outer wing pylon is a Diehl IRIS-T, short range air-to-air missile
A Mirage 2000D gives us a superb view of its underside as it blasts out of Leeuwarden
Note the targeting pod on the starboard pylon underneath the engine intake
Perfect symmetry as J-013, J-014 and J-015 line up on Runway 06 on the first day of the exercise
The five Mirage 2000Ds from the French Air Force that attended FF2016 all wore different unit markings
This one is adorned with BR44 'Sanglier assis ou Hure Barre Vert', otherwise known as 3 Escadrille of 03/003 Escadre de Chasse
Note the Thomson-CSF ATLIS II laser/electro-optical targeting pod on the inner pylon beneath the engine intake
The Polish F-16s at Frisian Flag came from 10 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (10 ELT) at Lask Air Base
Note the Lantrin ATP mounted under the engine intake
Air-to-air refuelling support came from a mixed contingent of tankers based at Eindhoven Air Base as part of the European Air to Air Refuelling Training (EART)
Support was provided by a mix of aircraft from the Netherlands (KDC-10 above), Germany, Italy and France
The classic delta wing of the Mirage 2000D is shown to good effect as it passes overhead on short-finals
Frisian Flag has historically been an air-to-air exercise. However 2016 saw participation from two wings that are essentially air-to-ground units
One of these was the Royal Air Force's 9 Squadron at Marham, which sent six Panavia Tornado GR.4s
This belly-shot of a Dutch F-16 as it powers out of Leeuwarden for an afternoon mission shows it carrying a similar load configuration to the Belgian F-16 in the previous photo, however it carries a LANTIRN targeting pod in place of the Belgian aircraft's Sniper ATP
#FA-124 is one of the 'newer' Fighting Falcons in the Belgian fleet
Noticeable is that like the RAF Tornados, none of the Belgian F-16s wear identifiable squadron markings
Frisian Flag exercises have historically seen aircraft that operate in the air-to-air interception role only
However FF2016 saw some 'mud-movers' taking part, including five Mirage 2000Ds from Escadre de Chasse 3 base at Nancy-Ochey
#ZA372 heads out for an afternoon mission on the first day at FF2016
The RAF Tornados did not participate in the first morning of the exercise, flying their first missions during the afternoon
This McDonnell-Douglas F-15C Eagle is from the 104th Fighter Wing stationed at Westfield-Barnes Air National Guard Base
This Massachusetts ANG wing is a former A-10 Thunderbolt unit
Missions trained during Frisian Flag 2016, included amongst others, air defence missions, offensive missions, missions to protect other aircraft and the suppression of both static and dynamic targets on the ground and at sea. With air defence missions, the target is to deny enemy aircraft access into a designated area. During airstrike missions, fighter aircraft operate autonomously and sometimes in consultation with army units on the ground (i.e. Forward Air Controllers). Although on average a mission only lasts an hour and a half, every mission is preceded by a long preparation, with an extensive debriefing conducted after the mission. The organization of Frisian Flag is the responsibility of the 322 TACTES Squadron at Leeuwarden, the squadron is responsible for the TACTES task (i.e. Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardization) which includes standardization of F-16 operations at both national and international levels.
Frisian Flag also strives to develop leadership skills with its participants, which is also being trained during normal daily training missions but with a limited amount of pilots and aircraft. Frisian Flag allows the most experienced pilots from each nation to plan, develop and execute missions in a large scale context and therefore create leadership skills which can be called upon in actual missions.