NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE
Anatolian Eagle 2019
Deep into central Turkey, with the seasonal hot summer weather in full effect, Konya sits in the southern part of the Central Anatolia Region. A major city, being the seventh most populous in the country, this vibrant economic and industrial bastion in the massive Konya Plain, which gives the city its name, has another noise to add to the soundscape – jet noise.
Known as the Third Main Jet Airbase, Konya air base hosts the annual Anatolian Eagle (AE) exercise. The exercise has just had a two year break due to the local political situation, but is now back to being a fully integrated major event modelled on the famous Red Flag that takes place several times a year at Nellis AFB (Air Force Base) in the United States. The first exercise, Anatolian Eagle 01, took place at Konya in between June 18th -29th 2001 with international participation from Israel and the USAF (United States Air Force).
Anatolian Eagle simulates a real war environment, with sorties progressing with a more difficult scenario as time continues over the two weeks of the exercise. AE follows the rationale behind other similar exercises covered by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Flag exercises, for example, Frisian Flag in the Netherlands and the aforementioned Red Flag in the USA, in having opposing ‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ forces battle it out to establish a result through combat means in the ‘Blue’ favour. The scenarios consist of the ‘Blue’ team attacking strategic and tactical assets in ‘Red’ land during Combined Air Operations (COMAO). ‘Red’ land is defended by opposing aircraft and simulated SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites.
Spokesman for the exercise, Major Turgay Tumer, explains, “Anatolian Eagle is a training centre that provides air-centric joint training to Turkish and allied/friendly armed forces personnel with the most realistic live simulation of the operational environment”.
He further explained that the exercises have been arranged accordingly to the needs of each country, which were determined during the preparation period. Various mission types are carried out in the exercise which includes tactical airlift/drop, Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), and time sensitive training as well as the more well-known Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) and combat ground attack as expected in COMAO missions.
Konya has dedicated facilities to make sure maximum learning opportunities are gleaned for the participating air forces. The White Building , or Headquarters, is where the training exercises are planned and monitored to test knowledge, abilities and deficiencies. The ‘Blue’ team have three aptly named buildings – Blue 1, 2 and 3, in which to plan the tasks given, and the Red team also have their own building, which no one from blue can enter, to plan the defence.
All location, position and flight information of participating aircraft is transferred to a Command Control Centre (CCC) via an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) system. All aspects of the sortie, such as missile shots from the aircraft, or from the ground are also handled at the CCC. Radars, other anti-aircraft systems and also the all-important AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) complete the information going to this important hub. Air to Air refuelling can also be controlled from here if the scenario requires it.
Airspace for Anatolian Eagle is 200 nautical miles (nm) from east to west and 150 nm north to south. This main operations area, known as the Salt Area, can be used from ground height and up to 50,000 feet.
Anatolian Eagle 2019
Seven countries took part in this edition, though Azerbaijan was only there as an observer, with the home nation, Turkey, providing the largest contingent. The joint forces of NATO supplied an E-3A Sentry from Geilerkirchen for AWACS support for the Konya based 131 FILO Boeing E-7T Wedgetails.
The United States Air Force provided six McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles of the 494th Fighter Squadron/48th Fighter Wing from RAF (Royal Air Force) Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. Commanding the detachment was Lt.Col Jaina Donberg who stated, “This exercise is about readiness and relationships. When we train together, we will be prepared to respond to any crisis or contingency. By training together face to face and in the air, we’re building those lasting relationships, which will make us more effective in combat.”
The importance of the more social aspects relating to cultural relationships was also highlighted by Major Allison Mandas, a Weapons System Officer (WSO) on the 494th. She said, “I love meeting all our international partners, it’s fun working with them. I’ve learned that although we are from different countries, we’re all pretty much the same as fighter pilots and aircrew. We share more things in common than differences”.
Thunder and Phantoms over Konya
Having already appeared at eight previous AE exercises, the Pakistan Air Force is a regular participant, but in its ninth appearance it debuted the PAC (Pakistan Aeronautical Complex) JF-17 Thunder at Konya. The multi-role combat aircraft is a joint co-operation effort with Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAC) of China with 58% of the airframe being produced by Pakistan. The latest Block 3 versions will enter service soon at a cost of $32 million, making them half the price of the General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16 Fighting Falcon, which also serves the Pakistan Air Force in some numbers. Five aircraft of 28 Squadron graced the skies of Konya for Anatolian Eagle.
From the latest in aviation hardware, to a veteran. The McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II needs no introduction, this classic fighter still going strong with the air forces of Japan, Iran, South Korea, Turkey and Greece. Six heavily updated Turkish Air Force F-4E-2020 Terminator versions of the Phantom came from 111 Filo ‘Panthers’ at Eskieshir. One aircraft was adorned with 60th Anniversary markings, in respect on the age of the F-4 Phantom and its first flight. A small celebration was held for the aircrews, ground crews, guests and visiting international enthusiasts on June 25th at their dispersal at Konya. 111 Filo is the last operational squadron for the Phantom, with is sister squadron 112 Filo already disbanded in anticipation of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II coming into service.
The mainstay of the Turkish Air Force is the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and this made up the bulk of the units deployed to Konya, as well as having the based 132 Filo operating from their own hangars. 132 Filo is also the weapons and tactics training squadron and uses the Block 40 and Block 50 F-16C/D version of the Viper. 141 Filo also supplies the famous SoloTurk display and visiting press and enthusiasts were treated to a short display from the aircraft during the exercise. 152 Filo also uses the Block 50 F-16C/D and travelled to Konya from Incirlik while facilities at its home base of Merzifon are updated. 161 Filo have perhaps the most recognisable of the all the F-16 units, having part of its inventory the Block 50+ with its conformal fuel tanks altering the sleek lines of the F-16. The squadron also uses Block 40 versions and is known as the LANTIRN(Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) specialist in the Turkish Air Force. Other F-16 units involved included 113 Filo, 193 Filo and 182 Filo.
Konya is also home to 134 Filo, better known as the Turkish Stars, equipped with ex Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNethAF) Canadair NF-5A/B Freedom Fighters. The team practiced continuously through the exercise and also displayed to the visiting dignitaries which attended the base on June 26th. This event saw a plefora of VIP (Very Important Persons) assets attend the base in the form of CASA Cn-235, Gulfstream IV and Cessna Ce.650 from 212 Filo from Etimesgut-Ankara.
So apart from the already mentioned countries, who else attended AE 2019? Italy turned up with three AMX A-11 Ghibli light strike fighters from 51 Stormo, Jordan had three ex RNethAF F-16AM/BM from 2 Squadron, whilst Qatar took part in the tactical airdrop aspect with 12 Transport Squadron supplying a Lockheed C-130J Hercules and a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III.
Anatolian Eagle 2019 was a welcome return to the many exercises which occur globally for NATO and friendly nations to maintain core capabilities and friendly relationships. It’s an established success and keeps the Turkish Air Force at the forefront of changing global challenges and how to deal with them.
Pakistan Air Force website
Turkish Air Force website
RAF Lakenheath (Senior Airman Joshua Magbanua)