After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Frisian Flag 2022 eventually took place, despite the current crisis in Ukraine.
Frisian Flag is a large-scale exercise series organized, annually, by the 322 Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization Squadron of the RNLAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force). The series, has been running since 1992 and has got the current name in 1999. After the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, at the beginning of March it was still uncertain whether this year’s edition could take place due to the Ukrainian war.
But after the go ahead was given for the two-week Flag exercise fighter and support aircraft from five different NATO Allies landed in the northern part of the Netherlands to train together from Mar. 28 to Apr. 8, 2022 at Leeuwarden Air Base, a Dutch airfield that has been the center of knowledge in the field of target practice and fighter flight operations since the 1950s. This is due to its strategic location close to the exercise areas above the North Sea and the existing military airspace above the north of the Netherlands. But also because of the extensive facilities at the airbase and the nearby Cornfieldrange on the Vliehors.
The main goal of the latest Frisian Flag was to prepare participating pilots and support teams for large international conflicts and work together with international partners to fly complex missions in high tempo scenarios. For this reason, around 30 aircraft of all types, including fighters, transports, tankers and electronic warfare aircraft flew two daytime missions each day. Our contributor Edwin Schimmel visited Leeuwarden to report about the drills and take the photos of the participating assets you can find in this article.
Among the interesting assets deployed to Leeuwarden there were six Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets. The Canadian fighters have become frequent visitors of the European theatre: at the end of last year, Canada has completed its sixth rotation to Romania, in support of iteration 57 of the NATO enhanced Air Policing mission.
Other remarkable participants were the RNLAF F-35A Lightning II jets at their first Frisian Flag exercise. The Dutch took part in the exercise with F16AM/BM of the 312Sqn, AS532 of the 300Sqn and AH-64D of the 301Sqn.
Initially, the Polish Air Force was also planned to participate, but the service had to cancel due to the crisis in Ukraine and the need to adopt a heightened readiness status at home. The Polish were replaced by the Italian Air Force that took part in the drills with two Tornado IDS of the 6° Stormo from Ghedi Air Base and two F-2000A of the 51° Stormo from Istrana AB. German and British Eurofighters also took part in the drills but did not to fly from Leeuwarden launching from their homebase.
The American contribution was also significant, with 12x F-16CM Fighting Falcons belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano AB, in northeastern Italy.
The French contingent included both 5x French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds and 2x French Navy Rafales.