Exercise Frisian Lightning
To replace the aging Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) ordered 37 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, but this number will probably increase to 52.
The first Dutch F-35 (F-001) flew for the first time on 6 August 2012 and was delivered on 25 July 2013. The second F-35 (F-002) flew for the first time on 27 June 2013 and was delivered on 12 September 2013. These two were assigned as test and evaluation aircraft for the RNLAF and belonged to the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron which was based at Eglin AFB, California. Later they were moved to Edwards AFB, California to join the Dutch 323 Test and Evaluation Squadron (323TES).
The following six aircraft (F-003 – F-008) were directly delivered to 308th FS at Luke AFB, Arizona for training purposes. In may 2020 the two test aircraft joined these six aircraft at Luke AFB. These eight aircraft were build at Fort Worth, Texas. The other F-35s will be build at Cameri, Italy.
In may 2016 two F-35 landed on Dutch soil for the first time, showing the nation their new 5th generation fighters. On 31 October 2019 the first F-35 was delivered from the F-35 Final Assembly and Checkout Facility at Cameri Air Base, Italy to the 322 Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base. At the end of 2020 a total of seven F-35s have been delivered to the RNLAF.
Frisian Lightning I
This exercise was held at Leeuwarden Air Base and consisted of preparing to deploy F-35s to another air base. They trained in preparing and packing of all ground equipment and spare parts. Next to this the IT, logistic and security departments also prepared themselves for transferring to another air base.
They were able to apply all the lessons and experiences they learned from this exercise in the second part of the exercise, an actual transfer of four aircraft to another air base.
Frisian Lightning II
On Monday 9 November the exercise started and four F-35s departed Leeuwarden Air Base for a domestic deployment to Volkel Air Base were they arrived late in the afternoon. The exercise lasted until Friday 20 November. Each day the F-35s flew two missions, one in the afternoon with daylight and one in the evening during the hours of darkness.
Next to the four F-35s this exercise involved 200 employees, 29 trucks and tons of equipment. All began six months prior to the deployment. For a deployment of F-16s all packing lists have been made but for the brand new F-35s they started at zero and had to begin to make those packing lists.
Apart from the physical stuff, the F-35s has a sensitive computer system where the data must be completely transferred to a mobile server before moving. Copying, checking and running a million data files full of classified information remotely, which also requires more time and manpower.
To ensure that everyting runs smoothly, a detailed estimate was made in advance of the equipment and facilities needed to work and live with an entire squadron for weeks outside Leeuwarden Air Base, it consisted of ballpoint pens, housing, network connections to spare parts. The packing lists have been made up with due care but through an exercise like this they find out where the packing lists are incomplete and they can adapt the packing lists for the next exercise.
Through Exercise Frisian Lightning II they learned a lot and it was a perfect exercise for a following exercise: Moving the F-35s to a foreign airbase, with all the lessons learned from this exercise. An even greater logistical challenge!
Road to IOC
The series of Frisian Lightning exercises are part of the Road to Initial Operational Capability (IOC) to be completed by the end of 2021. With this the Royal Netherlands Air Force wants to prove it can be deployed with four F-35s for a short period.
Everything about the Road to IOC is aimed at making that possible. This includes training sufficient pilots, maintenance people and building a complete logistics reserve package. And also, as in this exercise, moving a complete F-35 unit.