Large multi-national air exercises where combined air operations can be executed against strategic and tactical targets provide excellent training opportunities for all participants, but the requirements to host this type of exercise are such that there are only three training centres in the world where they can take place. Of these, the only one located outside North America is the Anatolian Eagle Training Centre (AETC) in Turkey. This year’s Anatolian Eagle 2016 exercise ran from 30 May until 10 June.

The first Anatolian Eagle exercise was held in 2001 after the need for an indigenous training facility arose as a consequence of the modernisation of the Turkish Air Force’s fighter fleet. After the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Turkish Air Force gained experience and reached a performance level such that they could host their own exercises and provide training for other allied air forces. The inspiration and basis for the Anatolian Eagle exercises is Red Flag, first attended by the Turkish Air Force in August 1997 with six F-16s. It is therefore no surprise that the facilities on base, such as the dining hall and ops buildings, are at the same standard as the Red Flag or Maple Flag exercises.

The Anatolian Eagle training complex is located in one area on the western side of the Konya base. Each Force has its own buildings within the complex; Blue Force has three buildings, Red and White have one each. Only members of the respective Force are allowed in their buildings. They are all situated close to the main briefing room with accommodation blocks and other social facilities nearby.

The Anatolian Eagle exercises are held three times a year of which two are reserved as national exercises. During the third, the Turkish Air Force invites Allied Air Forces to give them the opportunity to join the exercise at Konya Air Base, the latest was the 38th iteration. Fourteen visiting nations from the United States, Europe, NATO and the Middle East, have taken part thus far.

The 3rd Main Jet Base at Konya, which is located on the edge of the vast and sparsely populated Konya Plain in Central Anatolia, was chosen as it is in an ideal location for this type of exercise. The infrastructure was completed on 12 June 2001; only a few days before the start of the inaugural Anatolian Eagle exercise featuring participants from the Turkish, United States and Israeli Air Forces.

Anatolian Eagle can be compared with Red Flag in the USA – a simulated wartime environment which increases with difficulty using the normal building block approach. The complexity of each package grows over the two-week training period with ‘package lead’ being rotated through all participating nations and units. The first week involved arrival procedures, briefings and local familiarisation flights, with the first full mission not being flown until the Monday of week two. Two missions were planned for most weekdays, with the last one being on the Thursday morning of week three. This gives the aircrews the best training to prepare them for real world conflict. The scenarios have both Blue and Red Forces within the Combined Air Operations (COMAO). The Blue Force is given targets to attack in the Red Force’s area which are defended by the Red Force with aircraft and ground-based systems.

Some of the key aims of Anatolian Eagle were outlined during the exercise and include:

  • To systematically test and evaluate the fighters’ combat readiness statuses
  • Manage tactical training progress
  • Build a background and knowledge base in order to research tactical aeronautics
  • Conduct research to allow fighter elements of the Turkish Air Force Command to reach the military goals in the shortest time and with minimum resource and effort
  • Support the definition of operational requirements, supply, and research and development activities
  • Allocate training environment in order to fulfil the requirements of the Turkish Air Force Command
  • Support tests of existing/developed/future weapon or aircraft systems

The participants of Anatolian Eagle have access to a training environment within airspace spread over 50,000 square miles and up to 50,000ft, centred approximately 70 miles East of Konya so that transit times are kept to a minimum. There is also an area over the Mediterranean extending to the North of Cyprus for maritime operations. This allows room for 70 to 80 fast jet aircraft to operate safely.

Within this training area are three air-to-ground ranges at Tersakan, Koc and Karapmar containing surface-to-air threats from SA-6, SA-8, SA-11 and ZSU 23-4 systems, providing a realistic environment for the scenarios to be played out against. The Konya Air Base has all the facilities you would expect of a world class training facility, but perhaps its best feature is its geographic location.

Just like Red Flag, the visiting squadrons make up the Blue Force. Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) is provided by the home based 135 Filo, using AS532AL Cougars and Bell UH-1H Iroquois. During missions all flight information is transmitted back to the Command and Control centre via ACMI (Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation) in real time. NATO E-3A AWACS from the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force (NAEWF) normally based at Geilenkirchen, Germany but forward deployed to Konya, and Turkish Air Force Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eagle aircraft provide data links to other aircraft passing them information such as targets, location of friendly forces in the area and tactical information to defeat enemy forces. The opposing units form the Aggressors or Red Force, which is made up of the Konya-based 132 Weapons and Tactics Filo.

Controlling the exercise is the White Force. They develop the scenarios, release the Air Tasking Orders (ATOs), monitor the missions and analyse the results. Under the watchful eye of the Air Boss, who is typically a highly experienced combat fast jet pilot, they provide Command and Control of the exercise using the Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) system. This allows the White Force to track in real time every aircraft taking part, and to be able to monitor parameters such as altitude and airspeed: It is the Air Boss’s most valuable tool. After the mission, the aircrews from both Blue and Red Forces debrief in the main briefing room to gather lessons learnt in order to improve their skills.

With most participants coming from southern NATO nations and the Middle East, Anatolian Eagle has always been guaranteed to attract regionally important air arms. In recent years, the conflict in Yemen between Shiite Houthi rebels and pro-government forces, and the associated coalition airstrike campaign against the rebels led by the Royal Saudi Air Force and including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, and Pakistan has shown the need for greater cooperation in the region. This requirement has resulted in Turkey forming closer ties with Saudi Arabia, with both countries taking part in numerous joint military exercises across the land, sea and air domains.

The majority of units participating in Anatolian Eagle 2016-2 were from the Turkish Air Force, with most of their fast jet squadrons being represented. The Pakistani Air Force also attended with four F-16BMs and two F-16As from the 11 (OCU) Squadron (Arrows) based at Mushaf Air Base. Transport was provided by three C-130Es from 6 Squadron (Antelopes) which is based at Nur Khan Islamabad International Airport. The Pakistanis fulfilled both air defence and air-to-ground roles during the exercise.

There was also participation from the Italian Air Force with six Panavia Tornado IDS – three from 6° Stormo ‘Alfredo Fusco’ based at Ghedi and the remainder from 50° Stormo ‘Giorgio Graffer’ based at Piacenza. Their main role was that of air-to-ground and suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD), this was evident during the exercise with some of the Tornados carrying the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM). Logistics support for the Italians was in the form of a single C-27 Spartan from 98° Gruppo based at Pisa/San Giusto and a KC767 from 8°Gruppo based out of Pratica di Mare.

Saudi Arabia also brought eight Panavia Tornado IDS based at King Abdullah Aziz Air Base, Dhahran. Jets were made up from 75, 76, and 83 squadrons and, like the Italians, their role was also SEAD and air-to-ground. Transport was made up of a 23 Squadron KE-3A and a 24 squadron A330-243MRTT, both from Prince Sultan Air Base in Al Kharj. The Saudi Air Force has no heavy lift capability and as such has to rely on other nations to provide this: In this instance an IL-76MF of Jordanian International Air Cargo was employed operating on behalf of the Royal Saudi Air Force.

For this year’s exercise tanker support was provided by a single Royal Netherlands Air Force KDC-10 along with a KC-135R Stratotanker from 101 Filo based at the Incirlik Air Base. Transport and support for the Turkish units was provided by single A400M from 221 Filo and four C-130Es from 222 Filo based at Kayseri/Erkilet along with four CN235Ms from 201 filo based at Eskisehir.

The remainder of the Blue Force consisted of Turkish Air Force squadrons. The F-16s were employed as multi role assets while the F-4 Phantoms were used in the air-to-ground role. From the 1st Main Jet base at Eskisehir, 111 Filo ‘Panter’ brought eight F-4E-2020 Phantoms with two of the aircraft carrying the vintage Pave Spike laser designator targeting pod and all carrying the ELTA EL-8222 Electronic Countermeasures pod. From the 5th Main Jet Base at Merzifon, 151 Filo ‘Bronze’ brought seven F-16C Fighting Falcons plus one F-16D. 152 Filo ‘Raiders’ brought one F-16C and a pair of F-16Ds. From the 6th Main Jet base at Bandirma, 161 Filo ‘Bats’ brought three Block 50 F-16Cs and three Block 50 F-16Ds whilst the 8th Main Jet Base at Diyarbakir, 181 Filo ‘Hawks’ brought three F-16Cs and a pair of F-16Ds and 162 Filo ‘Harpoons’ brought four F-16Cs and an F-16D. From the 9th Main Jet Base at Balikesir, 191 Filo ‘Cobras’ brought six F-16Cs and a pair of F-16Ds. 192 Filo ‘Tigers’ were represented by a single F-16D.

The Red Force consisted of F-16Cs and Ds from the Konya-based 132 Filo ‘Daggers’, with six of their aircraft being part of the exercise. A total of 45 Turkish aircraft and 22 aircraft from allied nations were listed for the exercise along with 673 Turkish and 532 international personnel.

The value of exercises like Anatolian Eagle cannot be overstated. Turkey’s location, on the frontier of Europe and Asia, makes it easily accessible to participants from both continents. Excellent facilities like those offered by Red Flag in the United States or Maple Flag in Canada with their sophisticated high threat-based scenarios are an option, but in these times of dwindling defence budgets it is easy to see how Turkey and its Anatolian Eagle exercise might be attractive to nations that want excellent training in clear airspace at a fraction of the cost of deploying to North America.

Anatolian Eagle 2016 ran from from 30 May until 10 June. Below is a list of aircraft and corresponding units that took part in the exercise:

Aircraft Type Squadron Country
Boeing E-3A AWACS E-3A Component Germany (NATO)
McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 334 Squadron Netherlands
General Dynamics F-16A & F-16BM 11 (OCU) Squadron (Arrows) Pakistan
Panavia Tornado IDS 6°, 90° Stormo Italy
Panavia Tornado IDS 75, 76, 83 squadron Saudi Arabia
CASA/IPTN CN-235 201 Filo Turkey
Eurocopter AS532 Cougar 135 Filo Turkey
Bell UH-1 Iroquois 135 Filo Turkey
Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker 101 Filo Turkey
Lockheed C-130 Hercules 222 Filo Turkey
McDonnell Douglas F-4E 2020 Terminator 111 Filo Turkey
Lockheed Martin (TUSAS) F-16 132,151,152,161,162,181,191,192 Filo Turkey
B737 AEW&C Peace Eagle 131 Filo Turkey

AeroResource would like to extend its sincere thanks to the Turkish Air Force, the Public Affairs Office and all the staff at the Konya Air Base for their great hospitality.