The RAF has been putting six Tornado GR.4 aircraft and their crews from No.31 Squadron through the gruelling two-week-long exercise, Frisian Flag 2017, which was held at Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands. Beginning on March 27th and culminating on April 7th, the large scale exercise saw aircraft from several NATO members get airborne twice a day for a series of mock battles which saw the RAF aircraft act as the Red Force – the bad guys.
The primary purpose of Frisian Flag 2017, as well as honing combat skills, was to provide the participating units experience in combined NATO operations within a modern threat environment. The RAF Tornado GR.4s were joined by USAF F-15 Eagles, French Mirage 2000s, German Typhoons and an assortment of F-16 variants from several NATO countries. Missions undertaken included air defence and escort missions for the fighter aircraft while strike aircraft such as the Tornados were assigned to attack high priority ground targets and conduct defence suppression operations.
Wing Commander Matt Bressani of No.31 Squadron said;
Working with NATO countries helps us to better understand our own strengths and weaknesses by testing each other’s defences. With the Tornado GR4 going out of service in a few years’ time, this is an ideal opportunity to train our crews for their future beyond this air frame.
The last Tornado GR.4 is expected to be withdrawn from frontline service in 2019 with much of its strike tasking being undertaken by upgraded Typhoons. The Ministry of Defence has also said that the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II will be stepped up in order to create an additional frontline RAF squadron by 2023.