From Monday, April 16, to Friday, April 27, 2012 the international Exercise Frisian Flag 2012 has taken place at Leeuwarden Air Base. Apart from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the pilots taking part in this large-scale exercise have come from the Air Forces of Poland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Norway and the United States (operating from Lakenheath Air Base in the UK) and Sweden and Finland as Partnership for Peace nations. During these two weeks the participants were practicing their skills at air defence missions as well at air strikes against ground targets.
The purpose of the exercise is to train the participating pilots in conducting complex missions in a joint and combined setting with multinational coalitions during high-intensity armed conflicts. The focus is on scenarios for future NATO Response Force (NRF) deployments, as well as current deployments, such as in Afghanistan and over Libya in the recent past.
One of the tasks of the participating aircraft is to provide air support to army units on the ground. Throughout the exercise there is close cooperation with the so-called Forward Air Controllers of the Royal Netherlands Army and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps.
Participants of Frisian Flag 2012
The 2012 edition of Frisian Flag has been larger than ever before. About 65 aircraft were present at the flight line of Leeuwarden Air Base, with sorties being flown twice a day with approximately 50 aircraft.
Apart from Dutch F 16s (from both Leeuwarden AB and Volkel AB), the Polish, Norwegian, and the Belgian Air Forces were also represented with their F 16s. Other participants are the Finnish Air Force with F-18 Hornets, the Swedish Air Force with JAS 39 Gripens and the Typhoons of the Royal Air Force (UK) and the German Air Force. Dutch KDC 10s and AWACS units from the UK and NATO were taking part as tanker aircraft and flying radar platforms, respectively.
Orsanisation of Frisian Flag
323 TACTES Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base is tasked with the organisation of Frisian Flag 2012, supported by the other squadrons. 323 Squadron is responsible for the TACTES (Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization) task, and specifically for standardization of F 16 operations on a national as well as international level.
The participating aircraft had performed all relevant tasks for fighter planes, often simultaneously. For example, there were air defence missions, during which a sector of the airspace had been defended against intruding enemy aircraft or the monitoring and compliance of a no-fly zone. Other elements of the exercise were simulated air strikes on ground targets, with counter strikes from enemy aircraft and missile systems. Providing close air support to own ground units was also part of the exercise.
During Frisian Flag 2012, the major part of the missions was conducted over the North Sea. Apart from the Dutch airspace, the German and Danish airspace sectors has also been used. The air space of the military shooting range De Vliehorst, Marnewaard and regions in the northern part of The Netherlands has also been used. During the exercise there will be flying operations from 08.00 hrs to 17.00 hrs, starting on Monday, April 16 up to and including Friday, April 27,2012, weekends not included. Take-offs happened twice a day.
Throughout the exercise the aircraft have to observe the standard altitudes allowed for operations, all in accordance with prevailing national rules and regulations.
Why Leeuwarden Air Base?
Although much of the regular training is already taking place abroad (e.e. in the USA and Canada), because of noise considerations, the choice of Leeuwarden Air Base as the host for this large-scale exercise is a logical one. The air base is located relatively close to the large military training airspace over the North Sea, thus limiting the noise hindrance over land areas (except during take-off and landing) to the lowest possible minimum.
However, participation in exercises abroad will remain necessary in the future as well, in order to keep the pilots fully current. For example, it is not possible to execute live firings in The Netherlands during Frisian Flag. For 2012, the Royal Netherlands Air Force has opted to take part in Frisian Flag only and to forego participation in any foreign-based exercises.
Why this exercise in a time of economic recession?
Even during an economic recession such as the present one, this exercise is still a good thing.
Conducting the exercise 'at home' means we do not incur costs of transportation of personnel and materiel to locations overseas. The countries taking part in Frisian Flag pay their own way (i.e. for transport, billeting, fuel and overhead). Moreover, 323 TACTES Squadron has ample facilities for accommodating an exercise of this magnitude, such as large debriefing rooms, making it possible to have large groups of participants conduct post-flight analyses.
And for the Province of Friesland, the exercise brings a financial injection because of the considerable number of hotel bookings in the area. More than 800 participants will be making use of hotel accommodation in the region.
Support from the local population in all this a factor of increasing importance on April 3, 2012 an information session was organised for the first time to inform the local residents about the exercise.
lnformation was provided about the hours during which local residents might suffer noise hindrance, as well as on the purpose of the exercise.
Why is it important to practise in international exercises?
Missions such as in Kosovo, Afghanistan and over Libya clearly demonstrate the importance of international cooperation. over the past twelve years or so, all deployments abroad were conducted under a NATO mandate. These missions were executed jointly and combined, in multinational coalitions, with close cooperation between service branches from various different countries.
Yes The Netherlands is still taking part in ISAF mission in Afghanistan, in the Air Task Force with 4 F 16s operating from Mazar-e-Sharif Air Base in Northern Afghanistan.
Their deployment to that theatre is entirely dedicated to Close Air Support (CAS) for the NATO troops on the ground and the detection of roadside explosive devices.
ln March 2011, an F 16 detachment was deployed to Sardinia, ltaly (Decimomannu Air Base) at the request of NATO, in support of Operation Unified Protector. The assigned mission was focused on the monitoring of compliance with the weapons embargo and enforcement of the No-Fly Zone over Libya. The deployment was based on Resolution 1973 of the United Nations Security Council. There was less than 20 hours time between the decision of the Dutch parliament to take part in the mission and actual deployment of the unit. The unit was already flying their first operational missions on the second day of their deployment.
Apart from patrolling the airspace over Libya, the fighter jets were also gathering intelligence. With the sensors on board of the (Dutch) fighter aircraft it was possible to create a comprehensive ground and sea picture so that suspect vehicles and vessels could be monitored. The deployment was concluded in October 2011.
During Operation Unified Protector NATO used other procedures than the usual ones in order to engage the exact targets. ln Afghanistan, Forward Air Controllers are often used; these are ground units that indicate the location and nature of the ground targets. The absence of units on the ground sometimes gives rise to the incorrect notion that it was not safe to engage ground targets. However, with Operation Unified Protector, NATO showed that even in very dynamic situations (e.g. Libya), it is quite possible to engage targets without friendly troops on the ground. State-of-the-art sensors, good In tell and smart weapons made it possible to employ air force capabilities very accurately, thereby distinguishing between valid and invalid targets. These procedures proved to be very effective and, above all, very safe, making it possible for NATO-led units to respond swiftly and continuously to emerging new threats.
During Exercise Frisian Flag, all capabilities offered by the various aircraft are employed in order to be prepared to every possible scenario. These training scenarios are realistic, but distinctly different from for instance the current scenario of providing air support to troops on the ground and the detection of roadside explosive devices in Afghanistan. The fact that practising different scenarios is necessary was proven by the swift movement of the relevant Air Force elements and infrastructure as part of their deployment to the Libya operation in 2011, where the tasking of the fighter aircraft was entirely different from their mission in Afghanistan. Although this particular deployment went well, training remains key to effective preparation of pilots and ground troops for a possibile deployment in the future, for example as part of the lmmediate Response Force (lRF) of NATO, where the Royal Netherlands Air Force also has an operational commitment.
Lessons learned in Afghanistan and over Libya, combined with new NATO procedures such as described above, are fully incorporated in the exercise scenarios. However, during Frisian Flag much larger and much more complex scenarios are also exercised, with very high threat levels for both ground troops as well as fighter aircraft. All of this enables the pilot to be optimally prepared for actual deployment during real operations.
What type of mission is flown during Frisian Flag?
Sorties flown during Frisian Flag include air defence missions, offensive missions, missions for protection of other aircraft (for example, strategic airlift, AWACS, or other aircraft that have no self protection equipment) and the elimination of static and dynamic targets on the ground or at sea. At air defence missions the aim is to deny enemy (fighter) aircraft access to a particular area. ln the elimination of targets on the ground, the fighter aircraft and Apache helicopters of the Netherlands Defence Helicopter Command operate autonomously and in some situations in consultation with the Forward Air Controllers of the Royal Netherlands Army and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps.
Although a sortie lasts only an hour and a half, on average, each and every sortie is requires a long pre-flight preparation. On completion of the mission, an extensive debriefing takes place as well, so that everyone can utilize the training to the fullest extent. All participants are training well in advance in their own country in order to achieve maximum results at the actual international exercise.
What is the background of Exercise Frisian FIag?
The name 'Frisian Flag' was chosen as a reference to various other international exercises of a similar nature, which all featured the word 'Flag' in their name, such as "Red Flag" (USA) and "Maple Flag" (Canada). "Red Flag" refers to the red flag that is hoisted at an exercise range whenever any service unit is active within that area. ln the name 'Frisian Flag' reference is made to the province of Friesland, the home of the hosting air base.
"Frisian Flag" is an annual exercise. However, in 2011 it could not be conducted due to the deployment to Operation Unified Protector over Libya. ln 2010,'Frisian Flag' was hindered by the clouds of volcanic ash resulting from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on lceland. The volcanic ash had paralyzed all air traffic over Europe at the time. Therefore, participants from abroad went back to their home country as soon as they could, in order to avoid damage to the aircraft engines.
The exercise is supported by units from the Royal Netherlands Army and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. These are the Forward Air Controllers that are also working together with the Royal Netherlands Air Force in Afghanistan. The exercise was also supported by Apaches from the Netherlands Defence Helicopter Command, the recently established NLD Defence Ground-Based Air Defence Command (DGLC), with its PATRIOT air defence systems and the National Datalink Management Cell (NDMC).
Tactical air control and air traffic control has been conducted by the Air Operations Control Station (AOCS) Nieuw Milligen in collaboration with the German and Danish tactical air control and air traffic stations. Due to adequate agreements with the civil air traffic agencies (EUROCONTROL and Air Traffic Control Netherlands) no hindrance or delays to civil aviation were caused.