This year from April 15th till April 26th the Frisian Flag excercise is held. One of the biggest aviation excercises in Europe.
60 aircraft are at Leeuwarden air base to fly a total of 2 sorties a day over a period of 2 weeks in which real world scenarios are practiced. We're not only talking jet fighters that participate in this excercise, but also other air assets, like the E-3A AWACS to provide situational awareness, a DA-20 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, a Learjet owned by Skyline Aviation to provide Electronic Warfare scenarios like jamming radar, a KDC-10, A310 MRTT and a KC-135 to provide air to air refueling, by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the German Air Force and the United States Air Force respectively. Not all planes are stationed at Leeuwarden airbase. The E-3A AWACS and all tankers operate from their home base.
Besides all the air assets, there are also a lot of ground assets to help make this excercise as realistic as possible, including mobile SAM installations, inflatable targets, the Royal Netherlands Army Special Forces and more.
So why is the Frisian Flag excercise held? A few of the aims of the excercise are to provide aircrew with realistic training in a modern combat environment and combine large scale air operation with ground based and airborne electronic threats in a relatively unrestricted environment. It's objectives are also very clear, one of them being to plan, execute and debrief large scale combined air operations packages in realistic scenarios. Cooperation between other countries is also one of the key objectives.
What kind of jet fighters are flying during the excercise? There's the Polish, Belgian and Dutch F-16's, the Dutch from 312, 313, 323 and 322 squadron at Volkel and Leeuwarden AB, the Polish from 31 BLT squadron at Poznan AB and the Belgian from 349 squadron at Kleine Brogel AB, the F-16 is well known for its multi-role capabilities, German Eurofighters from the 31 Jagdbombergeschwader from Norvenich AB, Mirage 2000C from the French EC 02.005 squadron based at Orange AB and a very special plane, flying for it's last year, the Mirage F1CR from the ER 02.033 squadron from Mont-de-Marsan AB. Last, but not least there's the Swedish Saab Gripen, from F 21 Lulea squadron based at Kallax-Lulea AB. All of them, except for the Mirage F1CR very modern fighters, all updated with the latest technology.
Every day 2 waves are flown, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Every wave contains of 42 aircraft taking off from Leeuwarden AB. As mentioned before different missions are flown. The pilots are divided into two shifts. Those pilots have a very long day, even if you fly during the afternoon wave. To give you an idea, this is what the schedule is for the pilots in the afternoon wave. From 07:15 to 10:15 LT (Local Time), planning for the different sorties and scenarios is done. From 10:30 to 11:00 LT the final coordination is done. At 11:15 till 12:00 there's a mass briefing, which every pilot has to attend. Around 13:30 LT the first plane take's off from Leeuwarden AB. The missions themselfs are flown between 13:30 and 16:00 LT and after all planes have landed,, there's a mass debrief from 17:00 till 18:30 LT. All in all a very busy day for the pilots and everyone involved on the ground.
The types of missions flown are divided in offensive and defensive missions or a combination of the two. The practice missions have to be as realistic as possible. The defensive missions range from protection of ground objects, integration with air defense systems and slow mover, being a tanker for example or high value asset protection. Offensive missions range from Preplanned strikes, gaining air superiority, dynamic targeting via forward air controllers and suppression of enemy air defense.
Below is a small interview with Fredrik "Kodak" Holmbom on the Swedish air force take on Frisian Flag 2013.
The last remark of Lt. Col. Fredrik "Kodak" Holmbom is spot on, Frisian Flag is also about international colaboration and to work as a team, despite being from different countries.
Now how are all the ground and air assets coordinated. Alot of the air assets can be tracked by the E-3A AWACS sentry overhead. But for this year there's also the DCRC, which stands for Deployable Command and Reporting Centre, which basically does the same as the AWACS high above. It knows exactly where all forces are and relay this information to the pilots above.
After all these mission for a period of 2 weeks, pilots will have learned more and be a better pilot and thus being more than capable to execute real missions anywhere in the world.
A special thanks to Leeuwarden AB and the Swedish air force for taking the time to do an interview.