English translation by Frank McMeiken
Last April, more precisely between the 15th and 26th, the Leeuwarden Air Base of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) hosted one of the major European Exercises, Frisian Flag 2013.
Around 60 aircraft, drawn from a variety of nations, participated in the exercise, flying in two “waves” each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Various F 16 took part in Frisian Flag: the masters of the house were the Dutch, with Vipers from 312, 312, 322 and 323 Squadrons coming from Volkel and Leeuwarden, Fighting Falcon from the Belgian Air Force’s 349 Squadron at Kleine Brogel, and finally the modern F 16C of 31 Squadron Polish Air Force at Poznan: the presence of all these F 16 offered the advantage of guaranteeing a truly multi-role component to the exercise. The Luftwaffe was another participant, bringing its Eurofighter EF 2000 from the 31 Jagdbombergeschwader at Norvenich, these ensuring the presence of the latest generation of air-to-air assets. France took two types of fighter ot the exercise: the Mirage 2000C from EC 02.005 are capable of performing both air-air and air-ground missions. The second type of fighter from the French Air Force was, however, the Mirage F1CR from ER 02.033 at Mont-de-Marsan, usable against ground targets. In particular, the participation of the F 1 was truly noteworthy, given that these aircraft are now in their final year of operational service, and therefore close to retirement. The final “fast jets”, but not the least in importance, to take part in Frisian Flag were the Swedish Gripen from F 21, coming from Kallax-Lulea. The JAS-39 of the Swedish Air Force performed important roles in the air — air and air — ground aspects.
Alongside the “combat” component, the support element was equally important. In this case the RNAF had made available one its C 130 from 336 Squadron at Eindhoven, their first participation in Frisian Flag, for essential logistical support, while 334 Squadron flew direct from Eindhoven, participating with a KDC 10 for in-flight refuelling. Other assets for in-flight refuelling of participants were a German Airbus A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport from the FBS BMVg, operating directly from its base at Köln-Bonn in Germany, and a KC 135 Stratotanker of the 100th Air Refueling Squadron of the USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe) flying from its “home station” at RAF Mildhenall. From Geilenkirchen, furthermore, AWACS E 3A of the NATO Airborne Early Warning were involved; under the aspect of electronic warfare and radar jamming, the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) deployed to Leeuwarden a DA 20 drawn from Rygge and belonging to 717 Squadron, while the private contractor Skyline provided a Learjet 35 for one mission during the first week, operating from the Dutch base at Eelde.
The principal scope of the exercise was to train the aircrew to fly in difficult environments represented by COMbined Air Operations (COMAO), in which the various assets drawn from the different countries operated in packets formed by aircraft with differing characteristics in particularly complex situations: this also serves in practice to satisfy an additional requisite, that of developing cooperation between the various participating nations. Amongst the mission types flown were the fundamental Offensive Counter- Air (OCA) and Defensive Counter-Air (DCA): the OCA were focussed on the conduct of pre-planned air attacks and on the achievement of air superiority and the suppression of enemy air defences, while the DCA missions included the defence of a determined ground target, air defence against hostile airborne attacks, and even operations against possible threats from “slow movers”. A further aspect managed during Frisian Flag 2013 was the use by some of the participating aircraft of the Link-16 system in cooperation with land forces, fundamental for the transmission of secure information in modern operational theatres: this enabled the perfect integration of the air and land elements. This aspect was rendered possible thanks to an extremely realistic reproduction of the battlefield, and above all of the threats that a coalition could certainly find itself facing in a real confrontation.
So, beside the aircraft, Frisian Flag 2013 was distinct from other exercises because of the presence of various land assets, which added additional complications to the workload of the pilots involved in the missions. In order to make the threat particularly credible, several SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries were present, operating the SA-6, “Gainful” in NATO code. The SA-6 is definitely one of the most effective surface-to-air missiles: of Soviet construction, it has been exported to many European nations, and the batteries involved in the exercise were made available by the Luftwaffe. As confirmation of the level of land forces assigned to Frisian Flag, there were also special forces from the Dutch army, who provided assistance during CAS (Close Air Support) missions. To integrate the activities of the AWACS in building the overall operational picture in which the individual missions were involved, there was a Dutch command and control unit, joined by a mobile unit from the Luftwaffe.
As mentioned earlier, during the two weeks of the exercise, each day two missions were flown, one in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. In both the morning wave and afternoon wave, a total of 42 aircraft were involved, plus the AWACS and tankers which operated directly from their bases. Particular attention was paid to the aspect of mission planning, and once they were concluded, on the mass debriefing, in which all the crews were required to participate in order to assimilate the “lessons learned” which resulted from every flight. The emphasis placed on these two parts of the daily activities was fundamental, as today practically every deployment to an operational theatre occurs in an international context, requiring the integration of personnel of different nationalities.
We can conclude this report by suggesting that thanks to the land-based aircraft involved, and the extreme realism obtained, those pilots who participated in Frisian Flag 2013 are well prepared to be deployed to any area where they are needed.
The author would like to thank Miss Marleen Nauta and Miss Esther Weenk of the Leeuwarden Air Base Press Office
Images by Hans Juergen Breuer
Text by Dario Leone
Produced by Giorgio Ciarini