Frisian Flag 2018

Frisian Flag 2018

Report and photos by Peter van den Berg

May 2, 2018

Leeuwarden AB

Tensions are rising globally, Syria is a battle scene while Russia and the USA are in a constant conflict. In some way, this necessitates the need for exercises like Frisian Flag, as held in The Netherlands at Leeuwarden Air Base.

Leeuwarden AB hosted the large international exercise named Frisian Flag 2018 from Sunday, April 8 throughout Friday, April 20. Over seventy (fighter) aircraft from 7 different NATO partners practiced large-scale and complex missions.

The necessity of Frisian Flag

Frisian Flag is an international exercise aimed at training pilots on cooperation in demanding situations. Pilots face large coalitions of power in countries such as Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and eastern Syria. Exercises like Frisian Flag are important for the proper execution of procedures. Dutch F-16s are deployed above Iraq and East Syria. In order to carry out these missions properly and professionally, training sessions are held during Frisian Flag.

Location of choice

The choice for Leeuwarden Air Base – as the host of this major exercise in Europemakes sense. The air base is close to a large practice location above the North Sea. This eliminates unnecessary time wasted on traveling to and from the training area, adding to the effectivity of the exercise which can be held in only two weeks.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force works in close conjunction with other countries in order to save costs, of which Frisian Flag is a good example. For The Netherlands, there are no costs involved in shipping personnel and equipment to overseas areas. Participating countries pay their own transportation, stationing, personnel and fuel costs. Leeuwarden AB provides sufficient facilities for this exercise to its participants in terms of platforms and office space.

Realistic international cooperation

The focus of contemporary missions is increasingly on international cooperation by different NATO-countries. No single mission is carried out by just one country, they seek collaboration partners. Due to the nature of these co-operated missions, the cooperation can also be found in the ways air forces educate, train and exercise. In fact, it can be said that effective action is almost impossible without an international coalition. At all times, training in an international context will be necessary in order to continue to make air defense tasks and international missions possible in the future.

Commander of the RNLAF, Lieutenant General Dennis Luyt: “In the current security situation, air superiority is no longer self-evident. We are at our best when we work together, during national and international missions.’’

During the exercise

Missions are flown twice a day, in which around fifty fighter aircraft are involved every instance. Pilots are trained in carrying out complex missions in an international context. These missions range from stopping enemy fighter planes in certain areas, attack-missions, protecting other aircraft and eliminating ground and/or sea targets. This calls for cooperation with the army as well as the navy.

“A pilot is working about 12 hours a day during this exercise” says Major Bart “SIZZLER”, project officer of Frisian Flag. Planning of the entire mission takes about 4 hours, the actual mission in the air about 2. Time spent in the air depends on the air-to-air refueling availability. The debriefing takes two hours which adds up to, including breaks, 12 hours for the total mission.


In addition to the participating F-16s from the Leeuwarden and Volkel Air Bases, the German Air Force is also represented with its Eurofighters. The French Air Force sent its Mirage 2000 and Rafale fighter aircraft to Frisian Flag. Other participants are the Spaniards with their F-18s, the Polish Air Force with F-16s and MiG-29 fighter jets and the US Air Force with F-15s. Although there were fewer participating countries than in previous editions, about the same number of aircraft were involved in this year’s edition.

The USA was in the middle of a training tour through Europe. Three weeks before the start of Frisian Flag, they flew to Leeuwarden with 12 Air National Guards F-15s, 6 F-15s from Portland, Oregon (123rd Fighter Squadron) and 6 F-15s from Barnes, Massachusetts (131st Fighter Squadron).
The Americans are present with a total of about 270 staff. Commander Aaron Mathena says: “We can learn a tremendous amount of each other’s differences”. He also thinks that the Dutch pilots are very experienced, manage to push almost the impossible out of the F-16 and finds it very interesting to participate in an exercise with so many different aircraft types.

A radar and communications jamming aircraft also takes part in the exercise, aimed at disruption of radio signal reception and interference. In addition to its international participants, the Royal Netherlands Navy contributed to the exercise with an air-defence and command frigate (Zr. Ms. Evertsen), whereas the Defence Ground-Based Air Defence Command offered missile-system support.

Around a thousand to eleven hundred participants were involved from the start of the exercise on April 8, 2018. There were accommodated in the region. “All hotels are full in a radius of 50 km,” says base commander Arnoud Stallmann. ‘’We have been preparing for this exercise for about a year.’’

Departs fromAircraft typeOriginAdditional info
Leeuwarden AB, EHLW8x EF2000Germany, GAFTLG 31, 71
1x Falcon 20United KingdomJamming
12x F-15C/DUnited States,USAFANG 123 FS, 131 FS
16x F-16AM/BMthe Netherlands, RNLAF312, 313 & 322(host) squadron
5x F-16C/DPoland, PLF31 BLT
7x F-18Spain, SPAFALA 15
5x Mirage 2000DFrance, FAFEC 003
3x MiG-29Poland, PLF1 ELT
8x Rafale B/CFrance, FAFEC 030
Eindhoven AB, EHEH1x A310-MRTTGermany, GAFEART - Aerial refuel
1x C-130Hthe Netherlands, RNLAFSupport role
1x C-135FRFrance, FAFEART - Aerial refuel
1x KC-135RUnited States, USAFEART - Aerial refuel
1x KC-767AItaly, ITAFEART - Aerial refuel
1x KDC-10the Netherlands, RNLAFEART - Aerial refuel
Wittmundhafen, ETNT3x A-4N-Discovery Air Defence Services
Geilenkirchen, ETNG1x E-3NATOAWACS
Avord AB, LFOA1x E-3FFrance, FAFAWACS

Red Air

In previous editions of Frisian Flag, participating countries took turns in taking the role of aggressor, the so-called ‘Red Air’. This year brought along some change, German A-4 Skyhawks mainly carried out the role of aggressor throughout the entire mission. “That is a big advantage because the pilots can now get a lot more out of the exercise”, says Lieutenant Colonel Ronald, Frisian Flag’s supervisor.

“During the mission, I am learning a lot from foreign colleagues,” says Spanish captain Fatima. “And we’re showing our capabilities, so if we work together in the future, we know what we can expect from each other.”


The exercise does not only take place in the airspace of the Netherlands but also in that of Germany and Denmark. In order to make this possible, close cooperation is needed between all airspace controlling authorities of the countries concerned.
For example, combat command is monitored throughout the practice area by both the Dutch and German Control and Reporting Center (CRC), as well as by an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) reconnaissance aircraft from the NATO E-3A Component in Geilenkirchen.

There are a number of areas in the Dutch airspace in which is flown, that is, among others, in the TRA 01 to 10, which are located above the North Sea, with a maximum flight ceiling of 16.8km. Training is also conducted in the ‘Cornfield’ (Vlieland) and Marnewaard (north-western region of the province of Groningen). In a part of the TMA-A (A large part of Friesland including the Dutch islands, north-North Holland and a small region of the province of Groningen), the minimum altitude allowed is 1200ft. This is not the case in the nature reserve area of the Wadden Sea, where the minimum altitude allowed is 1500ft. The big difference comparted to, let’s say, an exercise in the USA is that the airspace in Europe is substantially more congested.

Air-to-air refueling.

Running in parallel with Frisian Flag is the European Air Refueling Training (EART), hosted at Eindhoven AB. EART is a solitary tanker exercise that makes for a great combination with Frisian Flag. Mutual practice-value is found in this simultaneous exercise with each other.

Since 1999, the Frisian Flag exercise has been growing in size with many foreign participants. It is a challenging international exercise for NATO allies in order to prepare pilots for actual missions in war zones.

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Peter van den Berg
Photojournalist at Aviation Photography Digest
Peter van den Berg is from Coevorden, Netherlands. His love for military aviation began in 1980. The first airbase where he photographed was Soesterberg, Netherlands where the 32 TFS was stationed with the F-15. After photographing many military exercises in Europe over the years, Peter decided to spend the last 15 years visiting Asia and the USA. He regularly writes books for Veldhuis Media Group. Peter has written books about NAS Fallon, Red Flag and the Japanese Airforce.

In addition to publishing books, Peter is working as a teacher for senior secondary vocational education.

Peter uses Nikon equipment.

Peter can be reached at: [email protected]
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