The annual international Anatolian Eagle exercise held at Turkey’s Konya air base took place in late June against a backdrop of continuing unrest in Syria and a surge in militant activity in Iraq. With so much uncertainly so close to Turkey’s doorstep the need to train and cooperate with NATO and its Middle East allies has never been more important.

The first Anatolian Eagle exercise was held in 2001 after the need for their own training facility arose with modernization of the Turkish Air Forces fighter fleet. After the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo the Turkish Air Force gained experience and reached a performance level that they could host their own exercises and provide training for other allied air forces. With Red Flag being the inspiration and basis for the Anatolian Eagle exercises, it’s no wonder the facilities on base, such as the dining hall and ops buildings, are at the same level as the Red Flag or Maple Flag exercises. The Anatolian Eagle exercises are held three times a year of which two are classed as national exercises whilst during the third the Turkish Air Force invites Allied Airforces to give them the opportunity to join the exercise at Konya Air Base.

Anatolian Eagle can be compared with Red Flag – a simulated wartime environment which increases with difficulty using the normal building block approach, the complexity of each package growing over the two-week training period with ‘package lead’ being rotated through all participating nations and units. This gives the aircrews the best training to prepare them for real world conflict. The scenarios have blue and red forces within the Combined Air Operations (COMAO).

Some of the key aims of Anatolian Eagle were outlined during the exercise these 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/aircraft systems

During the mission all flight information is transmitted back to the Command and control centre via ACMI (Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation). NATO E-3A AWACS and Turkish Air Force Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eagle aircraft provide data links to other aircraft to pass them information such as targets, location of friendly forces in the area and to provide tactical information to defeat enemy forces. After the mission, the aircrews from both Blue and Red forces debrief in the main briefing room to get lessons learnt to improve their skills.

Foreign participation included Boeing E-3A AWACS aircraft from the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force (NAEWF) based at Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

With most participants coming from southern NATO nations and the Middle East, Anatolian Eagle has always been guaranteed to attract regionally important air arms, and this year was no different.

The Qatar Emiri Air Force attended with four Mirage 2000-5’s from the 7th Air Superiority squadron based in Doha while the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF – al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Malakiya al-Urduniy) brought along three F-16s from 1 squadron based at As Shaheed Muwaffaq al Salti air base near Al Azraq .

The Royal Air Force brought along six Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon FGR4s and a composite team of 13 pilots from 11 Squadron and 3(F) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby along with 117 ground support staff including engineers and communications specialists. The final foreign contingent was the Spanish Air Force who brought over six McDonnell Douglas EF-18A(M) Hornets from 121 Esc. based at Madrid/Torrejón and six Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon S jets from 141 Sec. based at Albacete/Los Llanos.

The home team, the Turkish Air Force ( Türk Hava Kuvvetleri – THvK), included elements drawn from the following frontline fighter units: 132 Filo “Dagger (Hançer)”, 141 Filo “Kurt (Wolf)”, 143 Filo “Oncel”, 151 Filo “Bronze (Tunc)”, 152 Filo “Raider (Akinci)”, 161 Filo “Bat (Yarasa)”, 162 Filo “Harpoon (Zipkin)”, 182 Filo “Hawk (Atmaca)”, 191 Filo “Cobra (Kobra)”, 192 Filo “Tiger (Kaplan)” all operating various versions of the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and McDonnell Douglas F-4E 2020 Terminators flown by crews from 111 Filo “Panther (Panter)” and 171 Filo “Pirates (Korsan)”.

The upgraded F-4E-2020 is capable of deploying a number of modern munitions including laser-guided bombs and AGM-65 Maverick missiles. It is still a formidable platform despite being significantly less agile than more modern types and the addition of Rafael’s Litening III advanced targeting pod increases its effectiveness. During the exercise a few of the F4-Es were equipped with the AGM-142 Popeye missile; this was not used in previous AE exercises in deference to the sensitivity of the Arab participants in past exercises. Interestingly though the F-4s never flew with the indigenous TÜBITAK-SAGE SOM cruise missile in this exercise unlike in AE 2013-2.

During the exercise two missions were flown every day with one morning wave and an afternoon wave, each with up to 60 aircraft involved in the exercise. During the exercise the Turkish Air Force provided air refuelling and also tactical transport with C-130 Hercules and CASA 235s. The resident search and rescue flight, 135 Filo, with its Eurocopter AS532UL Cougar helicopters, while not actively engaged in the exercise, was on CSAR standby throughout the period.

In total the exercise involved some 494 international personnel who gained experience in a high-impact, mind-concentrating environment, exercising in the relatively uncluttered air space offered by the range coordinators at Konya. The freedom afforded at this central Turkish location enabled package commanders to follow the ‘train as you fight’ doctrine that normal everyday training perhaps cannot provide.

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 nation that want excellent training in clear airspace at a fraction of the cost of deploying to North America.

Anatolian Eagle 2014-2 ran from the 9th June 2014 through to the 20th June 2014. Below is a list of aircraft that took part in the exercise:

Aircraft Type Squadron Country
Boeing E-3A AWACS E-3A Component Germany (NATO)
Mirage 2000-5 7th Air Superiority squadron Qatar
General Dynamics (SABCA) F-16 1 squadron Jordan
McDonnell Douglas EF-18A(M) Hornet 121 Esc. Spain
Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon S 141 Sec. Spain
Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon FGR4 11 Squadron & 3(F) Squadron United Kingdom
McDonnell Douglas F-4E 2020 Terminator 111, 171 Filo Turkey
Lockheed Martin (TUSAS) F-16 132, 141, 143, 151, 152, 161, 162, 182, 191, 192 Filo Turkey
B737 AEW&C Peace Eagle 131 Filo Turkey

AeroResource would like to extend their sincere thanks to Col. Ömer Özkan for permission to attend Anatolian Eagle 2014-2, Maj. Hasan Saffet Çelikel. Commander Anatolian Eagle Training Centre and to all the base staff at 3rd Air Wing (Ana Jet Üssü) Konya Air Base for their warm welcome and hospitality.