From April 1st 2019 to April 12th 2019, the international exercise Frisian Flag was held at Leeuwarden Air Base. During this annual exercise, the Dutch Air Force trained with various armed forces and coalition partners for 2 weeks.

Frisian Flag was organised by 322 TACTES Squadron, based at Leeuwarden Air Base.

Fighter pilots from different countries trained complex and international missions these two weeks during Frisian Flag. Witnessed by hundred of aviation enthusiasts, about 50 aircraft take off twice a day from  Leeuwarden Air Base.

The focus of contemporary missions is increasingly on international cooperation. No mission is carried out by just one country, but countries seek each other out and work together.

Participating units :

France M-2000D Dassault Mirage         EC003
Germany EF-2000 Eurofighter                    TLG31
Netherlands F-16 Fighting Falcon                   312/313/322 sqn
Poland F-16 Fighting Falcon                    31BLT
Switzerland F-18 Hornet                                 Flst 11
United Kingdom DA-20                                            Cobham
United States F-16 C/D                                     179th FS

Leadership :

The focus of contemporary missions is not only on international cooperation, but also on military leadership and precision in execution. Frisian Flag strives to develop leadership skills among the participants. In the normal daily training missions outside the exercise, this is also trained, but with a limited number of pilots and planes. During Frisian Flag missions, experienced pilots were given the opportunity to devise, develop and ultimately execute and evaluate a mission in a much larger context. The Frisian Flag missions were planned and debriefed by a different country every day. Hereby leadership skills were seriously challenged and the maximum is achieved from the training. The pilots develop leadership skills that they can use during their regular missions.

Use of airspace :

The exercise took place not only in Dutch airspace, but also  Germany –  and Denmark airspace. This required close cooperation between the airspace control authorities of the 3 countries. The combat management is in the hands of the Dutch and German Control and Reporting Center (CRC). An Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) reconnaissance aircraft from Geilenkirchen also contributed to this.

EART tanker exercise at Eindhoven Air Base

Simultaneously with Frisian Flag, an international tanker exercise took place: European Air Refuelling Training (EART). This exercise was based at Eindhoven Air Base. The aircraft participating in this exercise provided air-to-air refuelling of the aircraft taking part in Frisian Flag. Tanker aircraft from Germany, France,  Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States took part.

Air Defense Systems

During Frisian Flag 2019 a number of air defense systems were deployed to make the scenarios as realistic as possible. These systems are set up at Leeuwarden air base, NATO training range “the Vliehors” and a location to be determined in Friesland. The latest radar system from the Royal Netherlands Army, the Multi Mission Radar (MMR) was also present at Leeuwarden Air Base during Frisian Flag.

Scenario :

During the exercise, all capabilities offered by the different fighter aircraft were used to prepare each mission.

Experience gained during previous missions is extensively processed and used during the following missions. During Frisian Flag, larger and more complex scenarios are also practiced, with high amounts of air and ground threats for the participants. It will never be able to replace reality, but it is the best way to optimally prepare the pilots for deployment during actual operations.

Participation 179th Fighter Squadron

During the media day that was held on April 1 an interview was held with Lieutenant Colonel Blade Thornton.

During the last couple of Frisian Flag editions F-15’s from several Air National Guard Units participated. The reason why F-16’s were send to participate was clear;

The decision to send the 179th was because of no availability of other units and because the 179th had a special mission in Europe.

Because of their partnership for peace program with Croatia, participation in Frisian Flag was an ideal opportunity for the 179th  to practice in a large-scale context with coalition partners and we can show our presence in Croatia. Therefore the 179th sended two of their F-16’s towards Zagreb to fly with the Mig-21’s of the Croatian Airforce.   

Thornton explained that the European theatre wasn’t unknown territory for him, because he was based at Aviano Airbase for 4 years, in 2001 and 2004 till 2007.

For this exercise the 179th  brought around 180 ANG personnel, including 32 pilots.

Within the ANG  there is a construction that part-time pilots are in service with the ANG. About 62% of the pilots are part-time and the rest fly full-time.

The 179th Fighter Squadron is part of the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard and based at Duluth Air Base. The F-16’s of the squadron are specially equipped for their task Search and Destroy or SEAD. The F-16’s are equipped with a special coating, “Have Glass 5”, which would make them less visible to radar. The 179th Fighter squadron flies with  block 50 F-16s. The only other squadron within the Air National Guard that flies SEAD missions is the South Carolina ANG flying the block 52 F-16’s.

“The special thing is that the systems in the F-16 have been upgraded in such a way that it is possible to eliminate targets by us. So in addition to the HARM rockets, we can also use bombs to eliminate targets. It is called Opportunistic destructive SEAD”,  Thornton explained.

Because the 179th has a lot of experienced pilots within this unit there is a kind of exchange program running with the United States Airforce, part of the total force integration. Lt Chaz Smidt was one of the pilots, normally based at Shaw Airforce base with the 20th Fighter Wing, but now temporarily flying with the 179th to gain experience.

The 179th Fighter Squadron is able to fulfill this need because many fighter pilots have many experienced fighter pilots and instructors.

Thornton also explained that the Frisian Flag exercise is not as complex as the Red Flag exercise, but the timeline to prepare the mission, fly the mission and debrief the mission was very hard and strict.

The 179th returned to the United States on April 17th. Leeuwarden was visited by 2 C-17’s the same day to pick up all the material used during this short deployment.


In October 2019 the first Royal Netherlands Airforce F35’s will join the 322 squadron at Leeuwarden. Base commander Colonel Stallman is expecting that the F-35’s will participate in future Frisian Flag, but first things first.

With Frisian Flag 2019 ending on the 12th of April soon the 322 squadron will start again with the preparations of Frisian Flag 2020.