2017 Frisian Flag; the French Connection
Updated: Feb 23
During the media day on Tuesday 28 March NSA photography focused specifically on the French participation from EC 3 from Nancy AB and spoke with one of the pilots. This story was written to be published.
The French Connection
"The world hasn't become any safer. We need to be good and fast and that requires the right training, which is exactly what 'Frisian Flag' offers" stated base commander Colonel Traas of Leeuwarden AB during this year's press conference. His words expressed the very reason why the French Air Force was eager to participate in the 2017 edition of this large scale multi-national exercise with airforces present from the UK, USA, Belgium, Germany, France, Portugal and the host country.
For the second year in a row Escadre de Chasse (EC) 3 participated with five Mirage-2000Ds of which one was used as a spare aircraft. Their main objective to serve in the air to ground role, together with the Tornado GR4s of the Royal Air Force and EF-2000 Eurofighters of the German Airforce, which made their debut in the air-to-ground role during this exercise. In previous years the French had already participated in 'Frisian Flag' with the Mirage F-1CR and Rafale aircraft. "Last year's experience of our sister squadron was very good because of the flying in different and difficult scenarios with numerous aircraft of several nations. Therefore we tried to obtain a position in the 2017 exercise again in which we succeeded", according to a seemingly pleased Major Lionel, pilot with EC 1/3 'Navarre' and spokesman for the French contingent. Ground personnel and 12 crews from all 4 four Nancy based squadrons, including the Mirage 2000D conversion unit Escadron de Transformation des Équipages Mirage 2000D (ETD) 4/3 'Argonne' were present, making up to a total number of 80 airmen. In order to fly in this exercise the French crew's main requirement was that they were combat qualified.
Major Lionel, a qualified mission commander and predestined to become future squadron commander, furthermore explained that Frisian Flag is a non-qualifying leadership exercise for the French Airforce. However, a fantastic and realistic training ground for its pilots and weapon system operators. The main difference between the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) for example and Frisian Flag is the intensity of the flying program. Where during the TLP crews first have three days of ground courses, Frisian Flag starts from day one with a daily, continuous program of planning, briefing, flying and debriefing. During the two weeks of the exercise all crews flew approximately 7-8 flights. In the second week the French twice delivered a mission commander and were responsible for the overall mission planning and coordination of both a morning and an afternoon mission. With more than 45 aircraft up in the air at the same time, not a typical walk in the park. Training is the name of the game especially as the crews from Nancy have also been involved in overseas operations in Africa. Under operation ‘Barkhane’, an ongoing anti-insurgent operation since 1 August 2014, the French Airforce maintains air assets at Niamey/Diori Hamani in Niger and at N’Djamena/Hassan Djamous in Chad in the sub-Sahara region. Since July 2016 EC 3 has 2 x 2 Mirage 2000D aircraft based at both airbases. On a regular basis crews rotate for a period of 2-3 months and even though there is no serious threat in the area from forces both on the ground and in the air they want to be prepared for the worst. In the Frisian Flag exercise, however, the Mirage crews would encounter serious ground threat with the participation of German and Dutch Ground Based Air Defence units simulating surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-6 and SA-8. Dynamic ground targets were daily set up In Northern Germany for the bombers to strike.
The French workhorse for over 20 years has been the Mirage 2000, of which all D-models are currently based at Nancy AB in the northeastern part of France. In 2016 the French defense procurement agency, Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), awarded Dassault Aviation and MBDA the contract for the mid-life update for 55 aircraft to keep them in service until after 2030 to operate beside the Rafale. The complete update package has not yet been revealed, but will likely contain the fitting of an automatic cannon for ground-attack work, modernization of the avionics and provision for MBDA MICA air-to-air missiles in place of the Magic 2. It is no secret that the crews hope for the full package of updates, but they also realize that it is a matter of politics and money. Although the French Airforce is constantly testing new equipment and avionics, the Mirages flew the Frisian Flag exercise in their regular fighter-bomber configurations. Aircraft could be seen carrying a GBU-49 guided bomb under the fuselage and/or the Thomson-CSF ATLIS II targeting pod for daylight/clear-weather situations and/or the more capable Thales Damocles PDLCT targeting pod. For the Frisian Flag 2018 edition, which unlike contrary rumours will normally take place, the French Airforce will definitely apply for a slot again, however the rivalry between the units within the French Airforce is fierce. Both Rafale and Mirage units are highly interested in participation so the French General Staff will have a hard time deciding which unit may attend.
C-135FR on the ramp of Eindhoven
Parallel to the Frisian Flag exercise the European Air Transport Command (EATC) held its own exercise at Eindhoven air base in the South of Holland. The European Air-to-Air Refueling Training (EART) 2017 was held for the fourth consecutive time. EART is a dedicated training for tanker crews in planning and executing complex multinational missions to enhance overall effectiveness and inter-operability of forces. Beside participants from Italy, Germany and Holland the French tanker force also participated with one C-135FR from Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol (GRV) 02.091 'Bretagne' from Istres AB. Even though the French crew was the first to arrive for the two weeks' training, flying in the first week was a somewhat disappointing as the mission on the first day was cancelled due to delays in the slot time as a result of fog in the north of Holland and later missions because of malfunctioning of the aircraft. Luckily the French know the word flexibility as tankers from the squadron flew straight in from France and took over the missions to provide the necessary fuel for the jets over the North-Sea. As the commander of the RNLAF Lieutenant General Luyt justly stated on Twitter "no gas, no glory!"
Mirage 2000D from EC 1/3 'Navarre'
Mirage 2000D from Escadron de transformation 4/3 'Argonne'
Mirage 2000D from EC 2/3 'Champagne'