Frisian Flag 2022
Between March 28 and April 8, 2022, the international military fighter jet exercise Frisian Flag was held at the Leeuwarden Airbase in The Netherlands. This is one of the biggest military exercises in Europe with participating fighter jets coming from The Netherlands, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Canada. During Frisian Flag, a large military training area over the North Sea and the northern part of the Netherlands is used for training missions. Because Leeuwarden Airbase is in the middle of this training area, no training time is lost and flight time can be effectively used for various training purposes. The airbase has years of experience as a knowledge center for flight operations and also has the infrastructure to operate with a large number of different aircraft including support personnel.
According to the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the Russian invasion of Ukraine again showed the necessity of these kinds of exercises. The situation on the eastern border of NATO territory makes it clear that soldiers and aircraft must always be ready for deployment or for any kind of assignment. One of the main goals of this large-scale exercise is international cooperation between several air forces as this has proven to be useful on several military operations in the past such as in Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq. Thanks to exercises like Frisian Flag, pilots and their crews are prepared and trained for threatening situations involving international action. In addition, such exercises also demonstrate the close relationship between allies and friendly member states of NATO.
Because of the dimension of this exercise, the list of participants is always very impressive. In addition to F-16 and F-35 fighter jets from the Royal Netherlands Air Force from the Leeuwarden and Volkel air bases (312 Squadron and 322 Squadron) this year also two Eurofighter Typhoons participated in Frisian Flag from the 51° Stormo and two Panavia Tornado IDS aircraft from the 6° Stormo of the Italian Air Force. France sent a large delegation to Leeuwarden with five Mirage 2000D fighter jets from BA133 Nancy (French Air Force) and three Rafale M fighter jets from BAN de Landivisiau (French Navy). This was the first time the naval version of the French Rafale fighter jet participated in Frisian Flag. The French Mirage 2000D aircraft were the only participants that always lined up nicely together on the runway before they took off with their familiar thunderous noise. The United States were also well represented during this edition of Frisian Flag with twelve F-16C’s from the 510th “Buzzards” Fighter Squadron of the USAF which are normally stationed at the Aviano Air Base in Italy. Notable among the USAF participants was that one F-16C had been fitted with a new, monotonous dark gray paint scheme which is made with a special radar-absorbing paint capable of reducing the aircraft Radar Cross Section.
The most impressive participants this year were undoubtedly the six McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet fighter jets from the 425 Squadron and 433 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. A striking feature of this Canadian variant of the famous Hornet fighter jet is that a ‘fake canopy’ is painted at the bottom of the cockpit. During a dogfight, it is more difficult for the enemy to see which way the Hornet is turning. However, the journey of these Canadian fighter planes across the Atlantic was not without problems. During a stopover at Prestwick in the United Kingdom it appeared that some aircraft had technical problems which caused them to arrive later at Leeuwarden Airbase.
In addition to the fighters which were temporarily stationed at Leeuwarden, Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from England and Germany also took part in Frisian Flag 2022, departing from their own home bases. Another loyal participant in this exercise is the Dassault Falcon 20C Mystere, which was provided by the British company Cobham plc to disrupt the reception of radio signals during the execution of the missions. Draken Europe took over the Aviation Service branch of the British Cobham Group in 2020 after which, from spring 202 the aircraft were provided with official "Draken" titles. Under the wings of this remarkable aircraft are four blue so-called "jammer pods" (jammers) developed for the NATO Joint Electronic Warfare Core Staff (JEWCS). This department is responsible for all NATO electronic warfare.
Text & Photos: Kris Christiaens