NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE
Anatolian Eagle 2023
Konya air base in Central Turkey almost always reverberates to the sound of fast jets as it is home to the 3rd Air Wing. The 3rd Air Wing after all has 132 Filo and its General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons sharing the airspace with the iconic Turkish Stars and their Northrop NF-5 Freedom Fighters. But in May 2023 these were joined by jets from the United Kingdom, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Azerbaijan as these countries took part in Anatolian Eagle 2023.
The Anatolian Eagle (AE) exercise is a prestigious multinational training event that enhances air combat capabilities and fosters cooperation among participating nations. The inception and purpose of AE began in 2001 as the Turkish Air Force (TAF) looked to improve its combat readiness and strengthen international partnerships. The exercise aimed to provide a realistic training environment for participants to hone their air combat skills, enhance interoperability and promote regional security. Initially it was primarily the TAF involved, but it quickly gained recognition and attracted international interest. This expansion broadened the exercise’s scope and enriched the training experience.
The exercise scenario at AE simulates real-world combat situations, challenging participants to employ their tactics, techniques, and procedures effectively. It covers a wide range of air operations, including air superiority, close air support, and Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). The exercise also emphasises joint operations, incorporating elements from land and naval forces.
For AE 2023 there are three different colour coded components – blue for the participating visiting units, red for the ‘aggressor’ (the enemy), and white for the command and control units which monitored all aspects of each mission completed by the exercise participants.
Red Force came in three elements to include air and ground threats for Blue Force to contemplate. 132 Weapons and Tactics squadron (132 Filo) based at Konya operate the General Dynamics F-16C/D and this unit supplied the air to air threat. The F-16s from 132 Filo were controlled by ‘Redeye’, the callsign used by ground controllers directing them. The third element was mobile radar and anti-aircraft weapons out on the range. The airspace used by AE is centered about 70 miles east of Konya with a dedicated 180 nautical miles by 215 nautical miles range which has clearance for the exercise from 0 feet up to 50,000 feet. Maritime operations also took part between Turkey and Northern Cyprus.
The plan for AE 2023 was for 240 sorties to take place over the time period of the exercise. There was a desired success rate of 80% hitting the mean point of impact against 110 different ground targets with a desired 20% success rate in air-to-air engagements with a less than 20% loss for the Blue Force. This was to be achieved in the use of Composite Air Operations (CAMAO) and the participating aircrew were responsible for planning, briefings and mission execution.
Anatolian Eagle Training Centre (AETC) is the commanding unit based at Konya air base to facilitate the annual exercise and bring everything together. Lieutenant Colonel Hakan Girgin, the AETC Commander, summed up what he and his unit felt about their role in AE 2023 as thus, “We are happy to host allied and partner nations at the Anatolian Eagle Training Centre command. Our airman worked to improve their skills and interoperability between the participating nations in training such as CAMAO, time sensitive targeting, dynamic targeting, high value airborne asset protection and anti-surface air operations”.
High value airborne asset protection included the defense of the deployed Boeing E-3A Sentry’s from Geilenkirchen in Germany. The NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) E-3A Component was NATO’s first operational flying unit with multinational manning, and it encapsulates more than 3,000 personnel from 17 member nations amongst its five major functional elements. Since their mid-life modernisation programme was completed in December 2018 the E-3As continue to be NATOs European mainstay in the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) role. Based at Konya, 131 Filo and its 4 Boeing E-7T Wedgetail complete a similar mission for the Turkish Air Force as the E-3s and these also took part in AE 2023.
The mainstay of the Turkish Air Force combat squadrons is the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon of various block numbers. Including the based aggressors of 132 Filo, there were eight different squadrons at Konya for the exercise on the day of Pixelsnipers visit. These were as follows;
113 Filo – Block 30/50, named ‘Ceylan’ and based at Eskisehir
151 Filo – Block 40/50, named ‘Savasan Kurt’ and based at Merzifon
152 Filo – Block 40, named ‘Akinci’ and based at Incirlik
161 Filo – Block 40/50, named ‘Yarasa’ and based at Bandirma
162 Filo – Block 40, named ‘Zipkin’ and based at Bandirma
182 Filo – Block 40, named ‘Atmaca’ and based at Diyarbakir
191 Filo – Block 40/50, named ‘Kobra’ and based at Balikesir
Perhaps, and arguably, the most iconic aircraft at AE 2023 at Konya were the four 111 Filo McDonnell Douglas F-4E-2020 Terminators. These highly updated versions of the F-4E Phantom II are thought to be remaining in service until 2030, thanks to a new lease of life as an effective ground attack platform and Electronic Warfare escorts with the EL/L-8222 pods the aircraft carry.
The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) took part in 2023 by sending four Lockheed Martin F-16E single seat and F-16F two seat Fighting Falcons. Unofficially known as the ‘Desert Falcon’ the F-16E/F is a Block 60 variant of the F-16 developed especially for UAEAF with an AN/APG-80 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the General Electric F110-GE-132 engine. 80 F-16s were purchased from Lockheed Martin and the UAE participated in its development enabling it to collect royalties from future sales. The 4 aircraft sent to AE came from Al Dhafra air base, where all UAEAF combat jets are based and during Pixelsnipers visit it was noted the aircraft carried inert AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation missiles (HARM) and AGM-65 Mavericks which indicated the UAEAF were playing the SEAD role for the mission that day.
As well as the Royal Air Force sending Eurofighter Typhoons to AE, the Qatari Emri Air Force (QEAF) 7 squadron from the 1st Fighter Wing based at Tamim air base debuted their brand-new Typhoons at the exercise. The aircraft only began being delivered in 2022 so this was the thought to be the first deployment for an overseas exercise for the QEAF Typhoons. Azerbaijan had their Sukhoi Su-25s in attendance again this year, the aircraft still sporting airstrike markings from the Armenian conflict in 2020. The Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence was proud of the success at AE of their Su-25s, equipped with the Talisman self-protection electronic warfare pods, by releasing the following statement, ‘After gaining air superiority, our planes (Su-25s), together with various fighter planes (other participants) entered the airspace of the conventional enemy and carried out complex combat maneuvers at both medium and high altitudes to destroy the enemy’s stationary ground targets camouflaged in mountainous areas.’
The second oldest squadron in the Pakistan Air Force, number 5 (MR) squadron has been equipped with Lockheed Martin Block 52+ F-16C/D Fighting Falcons since 2010. As well as air-to-air and air-to-ground specialists the unit also carries the Goodrich DB-100 pods for reconnaissance duties. 5 aircraft, a mix of 3 single seat F-16C and 2 two-seat F-16D Fighting Falcons took part in AE.
The Anatolian Exercise at Konya air base stands as a testament to Turkey’s dedication to maintaining a robust and capable air force while fostering international collaboration. Through its realistic scenarios, multinational participation, and focus on advanced technologies, the exercise has proven instrumental in enhancing the combat readiness and interoperability of air forces worldwide. As the exercise continues to evolve, it will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping the future of air warfare training and strengthening international partnerships.