Frisian Flag is one of the largest multinational fighter exercises in Europe aimed at training pilots in conducting joint war fight training with NATO allies in order to parley each other’s capabilities when needed in a contingency response. Held annually at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands, in 2018 the exercise was held from the 9th till the 20th of April with the participation of a number of countries including Germany, Poland, Spain, France and the United States.

During the exercise, pilots conduct flights and scenario’s which include air superiority, attack of simulated SAM sites, protection of high-value air assets and recovery/support of downed air crew whilst co-operating with the land and naval forces, including the JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers). Command over the entire exercise was kept under the watchful eye of the Dutch and German Control and Reporting Centre (CRC), with a NATO Boeing E-3A AWACS and a French Boeing E-3F supporting the CRC with radar images and their on-board tactical controllers.

Fighter assets are also supported by air-to-air refuelling (AAR) aircraft which participate in a separate exercise known as the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) exercise which is integrated with Exercise Frisian Flag. The integration of both exercises offers the opportunity to foster the exchange of information and procedures among tanker and fighter crew and to facilitate certification process between tanker and receiver aircraft. It is crucial that aircrews in both the tankers and the fighters are well-trained and experienced to enable them to co-operate in any real-world mission. A French C-135, USAF KC-135R, Dutch KDC-10 and German A310-MRTT participated in EART 2018 operating out of Eindhoven Air Base.

The aerial exercises take place in two waves daily, morning and afternoon during the two-week period. One will notice when a wave will commence or when aircraft are flying back in once the famous “bell” starts ringing loudly. Missions are carried out over the North Sea and in the skies above the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Aircraft are divided into friendly ‘Blue’ and hostile ‘Red’ forces at the start of the exercise.

Fighters from participating units, as well as Douglas A-4 Skyhawks from Discovery Air Defence operating out of Wittmundhafen Air Base, play the role of the ‘Red’ hostile forces. British company Cobham provides Falcon 20 aircraft to simulate enemy electronic jamming of radar and communications. The aircraft is also capable of launching simulated BVR AA-10 Radar-Guided Air-to-air missiles at its opponents. Three external pods carried under the wings comprise an electronic warfare jammer, Radar Signal Simulator (RRS) and RAIDS (Rangeless Airborne Instrumented Debriefing System) which tracks the aircraft using GPS and provides missile shot validity. Underneath the fuselage is an ESM receiver which allows crew to listen for radar signals.

The 2018 edition saw over 60 aircraft from 7 different nations including the Dutch. The “home team” participated with over 20 of their F-16AM Fighting Falcons operated by 312, 313 and 322 Squadrons. One F-16 which stood out from its counterparts was a twin seat F-16BM ‘J-882’ sporting the Arizona (AZ) Air National Guard markings. The German Air Force participated with 8 Eurofighter EF2000s, 3 from TLG31 based at Nörvenich and 5 from TLG71 “Richthofen” based at Wittmundhafen.

The French were represented by 4 Mirage 2000Ds, 5 Rafale B and 4 Rafale C. The Mirage 2000D are assigned to EC 01.003 “Navarre” and EC 03.003 “Ardennes” whilst the Rafales were assigned to ECE01.030 “Côte d’Argent”, EC01.004 “Gascogne”, EC02.030 “Normandie-Niemen”, EC03.030 “Lorraine” and ETR03.004 “Acquitaine”. Interesting to note is that ETR03.004 is a joint Air Force and Navy Rafale training unit.

The Polish Air Force participated with 5 F-16C Block 52 assigned to 3.ELT & 6.ELT from Poznañ 31. BLT and 3 old school soviet MIG-29A Fulcrums assigned to 1.ELT from Miñsk 23.BLT.

The Spanish sent over 8 single seat EF-18A and 3 twin seat EF-18B which were swapped around a number of times during the two-week exercise. All Hornets belonged to Ala 15 which are based at Zaragoza Air Base.

The United States Air Force was well represented with 12 F-15C/D from the Oregon and Massachusetts Air National Guard, 123rd FS & 131st FS respectively.

Also noted were a Polish Air Force C-130 and M-28 Bryza as support aircraft for the Polish contingent, a Spanish Air Force A400 and a French Air Force CN-235.

All in all, FF 2018 was another fruitful exercise with a number of foreign participants for spotters alike to enjoy. Frisian Flag is a fantastic event where one can appreciate and witness mass take-offs and landings of fighter aircraft in just a couple of minutes and is therefore an event we highly recommend to look out for and to jot down on your calendar!