Supervisor Frisian Flag exercise
For the last four years Capt. Jos (surname not mentioned for security reasons) was responsible as supervisor for the Frisian Flag exercise. A large, annual and international flying exercise taking place at Leeuwarden Airbase in the Netherlands.
‘I started my career at the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) in 1999 and went on flying the F-16 at Twenthe Airbase in 2002 with 315 Squadron. Due to the closure of this base and the deactivation of 315 Squadron I was transferred to 323 Squadron at Leeuwarden Airbase in 2004. By the end of 2014 I worked my way up as a Flight Commander and supervisor of Frisian Flag exercise. During that period 323 Squadron was deactivated and soon afterwards activated again at Edwards AFB as part of the F-35 OT&E program. Parts of 323 Squadron such as for example the organisation of the Frisian Flag exercise were transferred to 322 Squadron also based at Leeuwarden. As supervisor I then joined this squadron. For over a decade I have flown over on the F-16, did a staff tour at RNLAF headquarters in Breda and took part in several deployments. This has been for me the last year as supervisor of Frisian Flag and soon I will become Head of Planning at Leeuwarden Airbase and furthermore I will also be chairman for next year's Open Day here’.
What are the criteria to become a supervisor of the Frisian Flag exercise?
‘There are no hard criteria for being a supervisor of the Frisian Flag exercise. What is necessary is that you have to be an experienced pilot and someone good at organising. That is why a Flight Commander is the obvious peron to fullfill this job but its not a hard criterion. In addition you should have thorough knowledge of the RNLAF and experience in international collaboration. My staff tour at the RNLAF headquaters in Breda helped me acquiring this knowledge. They also consider if a candidate has the right soft skills to do this job for a couple of years. I was pleased to be asked for it and have done it for four years’.
How do you prepare and execute this complicated exercise?
‘About a year prior to the exercise we start the planning. The team consists of three units. First of all Operations. Like the other two units they work with a script although the operation has to be rewritten each year. This depends on the various parties that take part in the upcoming exercise. Besides planning the exercise, Operations is also responsible for informing all civil authorities. Most of the Frisian Flag missions are flown over the North Sea just north of the Dutch isles. Civil flights have therefore to be diverted during the exercise and cooperation with civil authorities is essential. The second unit is Operation Support. They are responsible for supporting the different participants. Where are the aircraft parked and who will supply them with fuel are some of the tasks they work on. Housing all of the personnel is also their job. We want to be an excellent host so that the operations run smoothly. Each participating country gets the same package but there are differences between them. This year for instance 12 USAF F-15 Eagles of the 159 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Florida ANG participated in Frisian/Friesian Flag. We therefore had to accommodate a larger group of aircraft and personnel for a more than a month. The other participants were accommodated only during the two weeks of the exercise. The third unit in my team is Non Operations. They do the peripheral issues like security of the aircraft and food for the personnel. Splitting the team up into three different units has a great advantage. Each team has its specialists and they are responsible for their assigned tasks. At specified times we meet to assess the progress. As has been mentioned before we start organizing the next exercise one-year prior. Then it is decided what participants we would like add to the exercise and they will receive an invitation. This is done by staff members of the RNLAF headquarters in Breda, who will send invitations to the various embassies. Around October we then organize an Initial Planning conference at Leeuwarden Airbase. Staff members but also detachment commanders of the units interested in taking part in the exercise are present at this event and are informed by the RNLAF about Frisian Flag. We also ask them what they expect from the program and if possible comply with their additional wishes. In January we then have a final presentation combined with a site survey. Then we ask all the different units for commitment and the final stage of preparation for this exercise can start. This is a very busy period because we have a small team and daily operations are also going on as usual. I frequently read in the media that the F-15s from Florida ANG decided at the very last moment to take part in Frisian Flag because of the situation in Ukraine and the growing tension between the NATO and Russia. This is a misunderstanding. We were already in contact with the ANG in August last year and they were very interested to take part in Frisian Flag. The reason was that some of the Eagle drivers/pilots are former 48FW pilots from Lakenheath who had participated in previous editions of Frisian Flag. As supervisor I am responsible that everything runs as smoothly as possible. Before and during the exercise I stay in close contact with all the participants. But also afterwards it is part of my job. This year Frisian Flag was carried out from 13th until the 24th April and at the beginning of July we will conclude all the handling. I want to be an integral part of this exercise myself and therefore I also participate in it. During the last Frisian Flag I flew three missions and one weather flight. The weather flight is used to check if all the communication lines such as the deployed Communication Centre operate as planned before a mission starts. We cannot have a mishap when 40 aircraft or more are in the air’.
Why does the RNLAF want to organize Frisian Flag?
‘It is of the utmost importance that our F-16 pilots get the best training there is. As we regularly work together with other coalition partners it is also necessary to train with them. During Frisian Flag we focus on large scale missions with different scenarios. In this way experienced pilots can train and successfully complete their missions as a pilot or even as an airboss. All sorts of complex scenarios pass during the two weeks of Frisian Flag, for example missions are flown to prevent enemy aircraft from entering specific areas and in other missions enemy ground targets are attacked while closely working together with Forward Air Controllers on the ground or at sea. During several missions air to air refuelling was practiced and this year the European Air Refuelling Training supplied a tanker aircraft from The Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy, which operated from Eindhoven Airbase. NATO supplied an E-3A AWACS from Geilenkirchen Airbase and for electronic counter measures a Lj39 Learjet from Skyline Aviation and a Da20 from Gobham also took part in this years Frisian Flag. A great advantage for the European participants is the logistic issue. In a maximum of two flight hours they can reach Leeuwarden Airbase with aircraft and personnel. For us the advantage is that we can train in our own backyard’.
How do you transmit such a complex exercise to your successor?
‘My successor Capt. Remco of 322 Squadron was assigned last year so he could run through the whole planning cyclus as my deputy. All the scripts were handed over to him and during the past year I have supported him so now he is prepared to organise Frisian Flag 2016 as new supervisor. And because my next assignment will be at Leeuwarden Airbase he can call me anytime he wants and I am always willing to help’.
What sense of achievement have you felt of organizing such a complex exercise as Frisian Flag?
‘I take great pride in the fact that a relatively small air force as the RNLAF with a small team of operators can organise such a large scale exercise unique in Europe. Although we are not using live weapons during Frisian Flag, the exercise is staged as realistically as possible. With minimum effort we can maximize the training for pilots for their future operations. Frisian Flag is one of many exercises the RNLAF participates in every year. Unfortunately, due to our assignments elsewhere we are not always able to complete our list of desired exercises. It is good to know that Frisian Flag is always on that list. Having been the first supervisor active for more than four years in a row makes me proud, but I also know this is the right time someone else takes over this beautiful job’.