For the past two weeks, Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands has been hosting Exercise FRISIAN FLAG – one of Europe’s largest aerial warfare exercises.

Flying two missions a day, RAF Tornado GR4s of Number 31 Squadron “The Goldstars” from RAF Marham, have fought with, and against, up to 50 aircraft from six other NATO nations.

31 Squadron Tornado GR4s © Crown copyright 2017

As an example, on Tuesday of last week a formation of four Tornado GR4s flew in a multi-national Combined Air Operation (COMAO) led by a French pilot as the Mission Commander. Once airborne the team refuelled from a German Luftwaffe tanker before pushing alongside Dutch, Belgium and US formations towards the targets.

With the bombs successfully dropped, the entire package returned to Leeuwarden Air Base, completing a true multi-national operation, honing their own tactics and skills alongside NATO allies.

31 Squadron Tornado GR4 © Crown copyright 2017

The team have gained valuable experience which they will take back to the UK. Wing Commander Matt Bressani, Officer Commanding Number 31 Squadron and the RAF Detachment Commander, said:

“From the most junior pilot on the squadron who has never flown in a formation of more than four aircraft and has now experienced a 48-ship COMAO, to the squadron Weapons Instructors who have both had their Mission Commander qualification awarded, and everyone in-between, Exercise FRISIAN FLAG has been a huge success, working alongside those who we could be called upon to go on operations with in the future.”

Mirage 2000D © Crown copyright 2017

On the technical side, RAF engineers have been able to make close links with their counterparts from other nations and realise that although each nation goes about its business in its own way, the similarities far outweigh the differences.

As Exercise FRISIAN FLAG draws to a close, Wing Commander Matt Bressani can reflect on a job well done.

“I could not be prouder of the team. The Tornado GR4 is an old aircraft which needs looking after. We have demonstrated here, in front of our NATO colleagues that the capability the aircraft has is still as relevant today as it has been throughout the 35 years in service. It is a source of huge pride that we have launched as many aircraft as we have, whilst deployed overseas away from our usual supply chain and resources. This is great training for the entire team for when we are next called upon to do the same again for real. This can only be achieved if the entire Squadron works together and I think we have shown everyone here at Ex FRISIAN FLAG that the Goldstars can deliver when required.”

F-15C Eagle © Crown copyright 2017

Leeuwarden Air Force Base is in the North of the country and surrounded by a variety of terrain including land, sea and several islands of varying sizes, making it an excellent location for a mix of training objectives.

An area off the coast was designated as a target to be protected as part of the exercise’s simulated situation, with the exercise spanning across parts of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.

Eurofighter Typhoon & 31 Squadron Tornado GR4s © Crown copyright 2017

Tactical control of the air space was managed by both the Dutch and German Control and Reporting Centre, as well as an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) reconnaissance aircraft from the NATO E-3A component in Geilenkirchen.

The aircraft taking part at Leeuwarden Air Base were:

• 10x EF2000 Germany, GAF
• 12x F-15C/D United States, USAF FL & LA ANG
• 7x F-16AM/BM Belgium, BAF
• 12x F-16AM/BM the Netherlands, RNLAF 312,313 & 322 squadron
• 5x F-16AM/BM Portugal, FAP
• 4x Mirage 2000D France, FAF
• 6x Tornado GR4 United Kingdom, RAF

AAR Tanker support was provided by a separate exercise taking part in the south of the Netherlands while electronic warfare support was provided by Cobham plc.

Global Aviation Resource would like to thank the RAF Media Team for the information and imagery.