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  • Writer's pictureLudo Mennes

2019 Frisian Flag & EART

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

From 1 until 12 April 2019 the Royal Netherlands Airforce (RNLAF) hosted two exercises at the same time. At Leeuwarden airbase the fighter exercise Frisian Flag and at Eindhoven airbase the tanker exercise EART (European Air Refuelling Training). Both media days on 1 and 4 April were attended by Northern Skies Aviation.

Frisian Flag 2019

Frisian Flag has been organised by the Royal Netherlands Air Force for over 20 years and participation is open to air forces of NATO members and Partnership for Peace nations. Host unit is the 322 Tactical Training and Evaluation Standardisation Squadron (TACTESS) at Leeuwarden Airbase. The exercise, one of the largest live-flying exercises in Europe, provides the participants the opportunity to train joint and combined air operations at the highest violence spectrum. Leeuwarden is situated very close to the North Sea, which offers excellent training opportunities for the multinational packages of 40 to 50 aircraft. They daily fly two missions in German, Danish and Dutch airspace in different complex scenarios with both air and ground threats.

This year’s edition saw the presence of German Eurofighters, French Mirage 2000s, Swiss F-18 Hornets, Polish, Dutch and American F-16s.

F-16MLU of the host unit 322 TACTESS banks away after take-off

179th FS "Bulldogs", Minnesota Air National Guard

For the 2019 edition the F-16CM Fighting Falcons of the 179 th Fighter Squadron ‘Bulldogs’,148th Fighter Wing, were selected to participate in the exercise.

‘The Bulldogs’ prepared themselves well for their deployment. Lt Colonel Paul 'Blade' Thornton, squadron and detachment commander, visited Leeuwarden airbase for planning meetings both in October 2018 and last January to discuss the big picture plan of the exercise. He formulated three main objectives for their deployment with his staff. The first one being the improvement of interoperability of their own tactics with NATO tactics. The second objective the building of relationships with the different participating countries and knowing how to coordinate with the European allies. And finally the deployment itself; practising the process of a deployment and the lessons learned.

The 148th Fighter Wing is one of only two Air National Guard wings tasked to provide Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) support. Their SEAD knowledge provided the exercise planners with a unique opportunity to integrate the mutual mission sets and learn from the experience.

All aircraft present at Leeuwarden airbase were painted in the Have Glass 5th generation paint scheme. This paint, made of microscopic metal grains, is capable to reduce the aircraft Radar Cross Section and make it less visible on radar. The Have Glass V is the latest version of the special paint.

Two Vipers in the break over Leeuwarden. Clearly visible are the AN/ALQ-184 ECM pod, Sniper Advanced Targeting pod and HARM Targeting System. The F-16s did not fly with HARM missiles, only AIM-9X and AIM-120 AMRAAM

The F-16s are standard equipped with a Texas Instruments AN/ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System (HTS), being mounted on the left intake hardpoint. This system contains a very sensitive receiver enabling the aircraft to track the location of hostile radar systems and passing the information to the cockpit displays and missiles.

On the right intake hardpoint the F-16s carry the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod for target identification and precise weapons guidance from extended standoff ranges. For its self-protection the F-16s carry the Raytheon AN/ALQ-184 ECM pod under the centerline.

Lt Col. Paul 'Blade'Thornton, squadron commander of 179th FS "Bulldogs"

Commander Thornton is overall very excited about his units’ participation in the 2019 edition of Frisian Flag: " Being in the Netherlands is all about building relationships and symbolically showing Europe that we are with you no matter what.”

F-16CM with serial 91-349 comes in for landing after another SEAD mission. The Have Glass 5 paint scheme makes the aircraft look dark against the blue sky

The deputy commander of EATC welcomes the media at Eindhoven airbase


For the sixth consecutive time the European Air transport Command (EATC) organised the EART exercise parallel to Frisian Flag.

EATC is considered in Europe as a centre of expertise in the domain of air-to-air refuelling with around 20 refuelling assets of five nations under command. In the next few years this capacity will be tripled with the implementation of the multinational MRTT unit, which will receive eight new A-330 MRTT aircraft, the achievement of full AAR capability for the A-400M aircraft and the arrival of new KC-130J aircraft.

At the media day the commander of the airbase Colonel Boekholt, the exercise commander Colonel Massucci and the deputy commander of EATC brigadier General Agresti welcomed the media. Agresti explained the media that EART is unique for three reasons;

1. being a multinational exercise providing the opportunity to exchange experiences, build up networks and line up the best practices

2. Running parallel to a large fighter exercise providing a great training opportunity for air refuelling

3. Fostering standardization of TTP's and best practises

The objectives for the exercise are basic and advanced air-to-air refuelling training, tanker cell formation flying and threat reaction. The tankers also participated in Frisian Flag as support of the Blue Air forces and needed to be protected from Red Air forces.

For the 2019 edition invitations were sent out to all participating EATC countries and partner nations Australia, UK and USA. Five countries participated with aircraft; Germany with an A-310, France with a C-135FR, the Netherlands with a KDC-10, the UK with an A-330 MRTT and the USA with a KC-135. Australia sent observers to the Netherlands, however they might participate in 2020 with an aircraft.

With the presence of five tankers the airbase reached the maximum capacity. EATC is looking for other options around Europe for an extra exercise next to EART. So far two options have been offered, the exercise 'Volfa' in Spain and 'Ocean Sky' in France.

As part of the media day a flight was offered to witness the air-to-air refuelling over the North-Sea in the so-called SHELL track near Denmark. Northern Skies Aviation flew in the UK A-330 MRTT aircraft, which provided fuel to two German Eurofighters. Due to the high cloud base unfortunately no formation flying with a German tanker was possible.

However the crew was more than willing to offer a view in the cockpit and of the refuelling process.

Northern Skies Aviation would like to thank the PAO's of Leeuwarden airbase and EATC for the invitation to the media day and the offered facilities!

Two German Eurofighters of TLG 31 'Boelcke' line up at the right wing after receiving fuel

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