Tag Archives: Frisian Flag

‘Bigger and better airpower’ with Frisian Flag

Bigger and better airpower. That’s what  Frisian Flag 2017 is all about, according to Denny Traas, commander of Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands and therefore host of this multinational military flying exercise. And if one thing becomes crystal clear on this early Spring-day in leeuwarden, it’s that learning how to fly alongside each other and getting to know each other, is the path towards ‘bigger and better’.

Frisian Flag 2017 takes in the strategic perspective of continued conflicts and increasing threats. “One of those threats is the posture of Russia”, says Traas. “And of course we see the conflict and the use of coalition airpower over Syria and Iraq. The need for coalition airpower will not change in the forseeable future, and that includes coalitions with non-NATO members.  It’s a script that we’ll be using for quite a while.”

In many cases, these coalitions while have to form quickly and operate effectively. Resources however, are greatly reduced while on the other hand, the pressure is on. Collateral damage or other costly mistakes are of course heavily frowned upon in Western societies. Coalition airpower requires preparation and aircrews that know how to fly together in packages of up to dozens of fighter jets. It requires understanding.

Do you see me?

That’s what exactly shows when standing next to Leeuwarden’s runway as 44 jets take off. Prior to each take off and from under the dark visors of their flying helmets, pilots clearly seek mutual understanding by looking directly at each other. ‘Do you see me, everything ok, ready to go?’ After a nod or a thumbs up, the air each time fills with the sound of jet engines at ‘maximum noise’ setting.

Seeing mutual understanding – part 1. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Seeking mutual understanding – part 2. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Everything ok, ready to go? (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Mirage pilot rest his head  against his ejection seat before giving the nod that says ‘go’! (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Training area

After take off, all participants head to a temporary training area over the North Sea, where a different scenario is played out each time. Dynamic ground targets are set up in northern Germany for the bombers to strike, while ‘enemy’ air defenses in shape of SA-6 and Patriot ground-to-air missile systems await them.

Home team

Leeuwarden airbase for 20 years has been home to Frisian Flag, one of the largests exercises of its kind in Europe. For the hometeam – the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) – this year’s exercise is another change to polish up skills. After decades of operations over Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – where air-to-ground was the skill most usable – extra attention is now paid to air-to-air engagements. Recent exercises in the US where also aimed at making RNLAF F-16 pilot full ‘warriors’ again in all aspects of airpower.

A US F-15 thunders down the runway. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Full noise mode for a Mirage. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Players

Other players during Frisian Flag 2017 are US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles, Royal Air Force Tornados,  Portuguese and Belgian F-16s, plus French Mirage 2000Ds and German Eurofighters. The latter make their debut in the air-to ground role during the exercise. Various tanker aircraft and a NATO E-3 AWACS support Frisian Flag.

Future

Future editions of Frisian Flag may well see participation of MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, plus interaction between current 4th generation fighter jets and 5th generation fighters suchs as the F-35. However, according to base commander Traas, the latter will probably sooner be US or UK F-35s instead of RNLAF jets. “In 2019 we’ll start receiving our own F-35s and then first work up to Initial Operational Capability in 2021. That could mean we will take break in organising Frisian Flag in 2020 and 2021.”

In 2018 and 2019 however, Frisian Flag is likely to be ‘on’. And with participation of other coalition partners and perhaps even the F-35 Lightning II, it will definitely be ‘bigger and better’.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming & editing by Vincent Kok – www.imagingthelight.com

A Portuguese F-16 against the backdrop of a typically Frisian farmer’s house. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Panning shot of a US Air National Guard F-15.  (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Another panning shot, a RNLAF F-16 this time. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Mirage over Leeuwarden’s runway.(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A US F-15 actually on Leeuwarden’s runway. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Royal Air Force Tornado’s will see their final landing in two years. They will be replaced by F-35s, which perhaps will be future Frisian Flag participants. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
German Eurofighters acted in an air-to-ground role for the first time during the current Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Frisian Flag doesn’t mind some Raptors

A knowing smile. During multinational military exercise Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden airbase, that’s all US Air National Guard general Eric Vollmecke has to offer about this week’s surprise deployment of US F-22 Raptors to the UK. This year’s edition of Frisian Flag will have to make do with the Raptor’s predecessor, the F-15C Eagle.

Last year’s participation left US Eagle drivers wanting more. No surprise for the exercise that has earned it’s credits in the world of military air combat. It’s something to be proud of, says airbase commander Denny Traas. And yes, he doesn’t mind playing host to some Raptors at some time in the future.

Whereas terms like coalition, leadership and multinational cooperation are usually the talk of the town during Frisian Flag, this Tuesday it’s Raptors what it’s all about. Sure, Leeuwarden is filled to the brim with advanced warplanes, but none quite so advanced as the F-22s currently in the UK, merely 30 minutes flying time away. Traas: “We are always looking for new aircraft types to bring to Frisian Flag, each with its own capabilities and its own limitations.”

The goal of Frisian Flag is to make participating air crews aware of each aircraft type’s characteristics. That knowledge enables pilots to put together large and mixed formations of military aircraft in an effective way. It turns pilots into leaders and single nations into a partner in today’s multinational military coalitions.

The home team. Dutch F-16s are out in force during the current Frisian Flag, which runs until Friday 22 April. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The home team. Dutch F-16s are out in force during the current Frisian Flag, which runs until Friday 22 April. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Noise

At Leeuwarden, that coalition consists of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, the US, the UK, Finland and Poland, each sending warplanes to Leeuwarden. Their jet noise shakes the airbase twice each day for two weeks. It’s when the aircraft take off and head to the training areas over the North Sea. The impressive stream of fighter aircraft easily attracts hundreds of aviation enthusiasts – plus as many noise complaints from the neighbouring town.

Once in the training areas, the participants engage threats in the air and on the ground. It offers a welcome change to refresh skills that perhaps are dormant in current live operations over Syria and Iraq, where air-to-air combat is non-exsistent. Base commander Traas: “Frisian Flag fills that gap and results in pilots that are ready for any scenario at any time, with no lead times needed. We train any scenario here at Leeuwarden, not just those modeled after current campaigns.” Given recent events, has a scenario featuring a large scale conflict involving Russia maybe been taking out of the drawer after resting there for two decades? Another knowing but silent smile, from Traas this time.

An F-15C Eagle lights the afterburners. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-15C Eagle lights the afterburners. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Belgian Air Component F-16 follows the above example. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Frisian Flag is about international military cooperation, which is nicely demonstrated by this German Air Force Eurofighter and Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 in the background. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Benefit

Both Finland and Poland would benefit from such a scenario. At the same time, neither country has taken part in recent ops over the Middle East, although Poland ponders to do so. “This is one of the most imporant exercises for us each year, along with the Tiger Meet”, says a Polish Air Force F-16 pilot. Despite not having actual combat experience, the Polish Air Force – celebrating ten years of F-16 operations later this year – bring something valuable to Leeuwarden. Traas: “They are the only ones bringing advanced F-16Cs, just like the Finnish are the only ones bringing F-18 Hornets. Again, the more aircraft types, the better.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Hi speed landing, slow speed shutter. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish Hornet pilot checks out the crowd. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Air Force Mirage 2000D from Nancy. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Proven Eagle

As far as US Air National Guard pilot David ‘Moon’ Halasi-Kun is concerned, there’s still not much better than the F-15C Eagle behind him. “It is still the most highly capable and proven air superiority fighter in existence. The F-15 with its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar brings very unique capabilities, just as the F-22 with its stealthiness brings unique capabilities.” Combined, the two deliver air dominance, says ‘Moon’.

Together with 40 or so other Eagle pilots from the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, ‘Moon’ for the next six months augments US firepower over Europe. Frisian Flag marks the start of the deployment, which should see the aircraft and crew head further into Europe.

According to Leeuwarden base commander Denny Traas, there is a ‘fair chance’ that Frisian Flag will hosts another non-European air force in the future. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) observers are closely watching the current exercise. Raptors or Australian F-18 Super Hornets in the future? Well, why not have both? Because yes, the more, the better in the air combat household name that now is Frisian Flag.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image (top): A German Eurofighter lands at Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Focused while landing. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Smokey landing after a tiring mission. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Smokey landing after a tiring mission. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The participating F-15 Eagles come from both the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, with the latter shown here. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Germans are regular participants in Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Noise is an issue at Leeuwarden, and this picture clearly demonstrates why. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing at the end of a day’s flying. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

 

Press Play: Riding the clouds, fighting the Eagle

Every now and then a video pops up that is worth its own space at Airheadsfly.com. On Tuesday 2 June, the Dutch ministry of Defense published gear footage of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16 pilot sharing the sky with a US Air National Guard F-15 Eagle, but also exchanging some simulated hostilities during Dissimilar air combat training (DACT).

The video was made earlier this Spring, when twelve F-15 Eagles of the Florida Air National Guard’s 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. A story on that – also with video! – is here.

The Eagles later took part in exercise Frisian Flag (see here and here for more vids) and are currently deployed to Bulgaria.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image & video footage: Sharing the sky. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

Rewinding Frisian Flag

Wether they involved noisy fighter jets or not, for years and years military exercises in European passed by largely unnoticed by the general public. The same can’t be said for exercises held over the last few months, which saw themselves at the focus of the new’s attention. Recent military exercises such Frisian Flag 2015 at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands, are as much about training as about a show of force.

The US has been eager to show its airborne teeth in Europe, sending Theater Security Packages of A-10s and F-15s to Europe – packages that were previously reserved for ‘other’ hot spots around the globe and earlier this year caught many off guard in Europe.

The F-15s took part in Frisian Flag 2015, along with Dutch and Polish F-16s, Spanish and Finnish F-18s plus German Typhoons.  A show of force as seen by many – and in these times, that’s one objective ticked off. Let’s rewind that in this quality film by professional filmer Vincent Kok of Imaging the Light.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top) A US Air National Guard F-15 at Leeuwarden.
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

Feature: Closing the tanker gap with EART

No air power without air-to-air-refueling. But also, no air-to-air refueling without certifications, clearances, bilateral agreements between countries and heaps of paperwork. The infamous European ‘tanker gap’ perhaps is not a matter of aircraft after all, but a matter of overcoming bureaucracy and inefficiency, it appears during the current European Air-to-Air Refueling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. If anything, participating tanker crews are determined to work together as closely as possible.

The platform at Eindhoven usually houses just two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker aircraft, but until 24 April an Airbus A310 MRTT from Germany, an Italian Air Force KC-767 plus a French Air Force KC-135R join the two Dutch aircraft. Together with their crews, all aircraft participate in EART, an initiative started by the Eindhoven-based European Air Transport Command (EATC), which commands large parts of the military air transport and tanker fleets of the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain.

 

Libya
This exercise specifically for tanker aircraft originated from lessons learned during Operation Unified Protector over Libya in 2011, says Eric van Osch, attached to EATC and a flight engineer on the KDC-10. “During those flights all nations used the same standardized procedures, but nevertheless we noticed slight variations in planning, radio communication and other operational details. Those variations made efficient use of available tankers hard at times. This exercise here at Eindhoven is held to harmonize operations, get to know each other even better and use our joint assets more efficiently.”

The current shared feeling is that European tanker capacity is sufficient in peace times, but falling behind in major operations or during large scale conflict. Optimal use or available aircraft and purchase of new tankers should close this ‘gap’.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 in one shot. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A shot of its own for the French KC-135. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Frisian Flag
For two weeks, the aircraft participating in EART refuel fighter aircraft that participate in Frisian Flag 2015. Today, the Dutch KDC-10 is joined in the air by four Polish F-16Cs and four Dutch F-16AMs, while the Italian KC-767 supplies fuel to other fighters. The Italians and French are able to refuel using both the boom and probe and drogue method, while the Dutch and Germans only use the boom and drogue method respectively. The US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles currently at Leeuwarden are only allowed to refuel on the French tanker. Once more, an example of clearances, certifications and other bureaucratic headaches.

The EART tankers fly twice a day, giving away precious fuel to Frisian Flag players. Air-to-air refueling allows the fighter pilots to stay close to their target area, a necessity in current operations around the globe.

Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

European pool
Modern air power requires air-to-air refueling and tankers are said to be in short supply in Europe. Several nations have joined forces and are looking to buy at least four A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft from Airbus, with a request for proposal expected soon. These aircraft will serve as a joint pool for the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and Norway. NATO will pay for the aircraft and they will operate from Eindhoven, with forward operating bases in Norway and Poland. Deliveries start in 2019 at the earliest. Dutch 334 squadron will likely be absorbed into the new European tanker unit.

“That means the end for the fantastic KDC-10 in our fleet”, says Van Osch, who has flown on KDC-10s since the aircraft was introduced into Dutch service twenty years ago, although both KDC-10s were actually built in the seventies and used by charter airline Martinair before. “It’s a great and fantastic, stable platform for air-to-air refueling. And of course, it has lots of character.”

Racetrack
Dutch Viper pilots flying next to us have ear nor eye for any of that. They are looking for gas and are happily supplied with exactly that by our KDC-10, which is orbiting the ‘Shell’ racetrack over the North Sea. Another five minutes and some friendly waving later, they disappear to continue their Frisian Flag mission.

 Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Observe
During EART, air crews fly along on board each other’s aircraft to observe variations in procedures.  These variations are discussed back at Eindhoven, where academics also take place. Ground personnel is also involved, with turnaround times for aircraft during the exercise being shorter than usual. This year’s EART follows up last year’s first successful edition, which was also held at Eindhoven. Participating crews are enthusiastic about it. According to EATC there’s a lot of potential for growth, with future exercises possibly held elsewhere also.

EART allows more efficient use of European tanker aircraft, while the number of available tankers is set to grow. The European tanker gap seems to close slowly but steadily, just like another F-16 pilot who slowly but steadily approaches our KDC-10 and gets to hear the word he wants to hear at the end: contact!

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Italian KC-767 during preparations for its next flight. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
View on the French KC-135. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)