ANATOLIAN EAGLE 2021
Report and photos by George Karavantos
July 22, 2021
From June 21 to July 2, the medium-sized multinational exercise “Anatolian Eagle”, hosted by the Turkish Air Force, took place at the 3rd Main Jet Base in Konya. Apart from the deployment of the Turkish Air Force, it also included the participation of the Air Forces of Qatar, Pakistan and the “exotic” Azerbaijan. George Karavantos reports.
The Anatolian Eagle exercise dates back to the late 90s, when it was established as a national air warfare exercise. Following the participation of the Turkish Air Force in Red Flag in 1997, ambitions for the Anatolian Eagle exercise to evolve grew even more. Starting in June 2001 at Konya Air Base, the first Anatolian Eagle took place involving the Turkish Air Force, the United States Air Force and the Israeli Air Force. The reason of setting up that exercise was to enhance the combat training of the Turkish pilots and to increase the interoperability with other air forces.
Throughout all these years many facilities have been built, such as the wide aircraft ramp named Eagle, surrounded by buildings for maintenance and storage, where foreign and national aerial assets are stationing during the exercise. From 2001 till today there have been 43 Anatolian Eagle training exercises (national and international) and in total 2920 aircraft and 35.657 personnel from 14 countries have participated and logged 38.827 hours in 24.222 sorties.
The main goals in every Anatolian Eagle exercise 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
The Anatolian Eagle exercises, during the past years, were held three times per year. Two of them were classed as national exercises and the third as an international one. Last year’s Anatolian Eagle had to be cancelled due to Covid 19 while this year there was only one national and one international.
Apart from the interesting participants, Anatolian Eagle 2021 exercise was also an apocalypse by many concerning its NATO relationship and its new orientation. With so much uncertainly at Turkey’s doorstep the invitation to train and cooperate with “new” allies clearly proved its quest for new horizons.
This year’s international participants involved 20 aircraft. A regular attendee which returned again at the Anatolian Eagle 2021 was the Pakistani Air Force. It attended with five JF-17 Thunders from the 16th Squadron (Black Panthers) based at Minhas Air Base in Kamra. In the past the PAF was attending with F-16A/B aircraft, but this year it participated with JF-17 Thunders like it did in 2019. That was its 10th participation.
Another distinguished participant was the Qatar Emiri Air Force. During the last years Turkey and Qatar have come closer and have increased their military cooperation in multiple fields. Qatari Air Force brought 4 Rafale fighters from the 1st Fighter Wing based at Tamim. These brand new Rafales made their debut not only at Anatolian Eagle but also at an international exercise. The participation of the Qatari’s Air Force Rafales was considered by many as an ultimate try of the Turkish Air Force to check and evaluate what they will be against in the following months with the sudden acquisition of these advanced fighters from its neighbour country, Greece.
But the most distinctive “guest” for this year’s exercise was Azerbaijan. Both countries have performed common exercises in the past but it was the first time that Azerbaijan Air Force took part in Anatolian Eagle. The Air Force sent two MiG-29s from the Nasosnaya AB and two Su-25s from the Kudamir AB which attracted the most attention from the photographers and spotters during Media day.
The Turkish Air Force F-16s were drawn from across their large fleet of Block 30, 40, 50 and 50+ aircraft with a number of different squadron markings on display. The Turkish Air Force participated with the following units:
– 101 Filo with KC-135R from 10nci TÜK at Incirlik
– 113 Filo with F-16C/D-50 from 1nci AJÜ at Eskisehir
– 131 Filo with E-7T from 3nci AJÜe at Konya
– 132 Filo with F-16C/D-30 from 3nci AJEÜ at Konya
– 151 Filo with F-16C/D-4 0 from 5nci AJÜ at Merzifon
– 152 Filo with F-16C/D-40 from 5nci AJÜ at Merzifon
– 181 Filo with F-16C/D-50+ from 8nci AJÜ at Diyarbakir
– 191 Filo with F-16C/D-40 from 9nci AJÜ at Balikesir
– 302 Filo with Anka-S UAV aircraft from 14ncu AJÜ at Incirlik
The most noticeable F-16s were the ones belonging to the resident unit 132 Filo. These aggressors were forming the Red Force and this year, they were painted with some high visibility red stripes on their vertical and horizontal stabilizers.
Despite the fact that the legendary McDonnell Douglas F-4E 2020 Terminators from the 111 Filo “Panther” were not actively participating in this year’s exercise, they performed a notable presence during the Media Day which was the nicest addition of the Anatolian Eagle 2021. These few remaining F-4E-2020 are still hanging from a thin thread and no one knows what their future will hold after the cancellation of the F-35 acquisition from Turkey.
All the participants of Anatolian Eagle 2021 had access to a training environment within a 300km by 400km area located between Konya and Ankara, which keeps transit time to a minimum. Within this training area are three air-to-ground ranges at Tersakan, Koc and Karapmar, deploying surface-to-air threats from SA-6, SA-8, SA-11, ZSU 23-4 and Skyguard Sparrow systems as to provide a realistic environment for the exercise scenarios. 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.
In every Anatolian Eagle’s exercise scenario there are two adversary aerial components, Red Force and Blue Force. Red Force is formed by Konya AB resident unit 132 Filo, which operates the F-16 in the aggressor role and by ground controllers, codenamed Redeye, which monitor the operations over the range and make use of different threat systems against Blue Force aircraft.
All participating aircraft are controlled in real time by the White Force. This component develops scenarios, establishes different level of training and composition of aerial assets according to the different scheduled missions (Offensive Counter Operations, Combat Search and Rescue, Fighter Sweep, Suppression of Enemy Air Defences , Close Air Support, Time-Sensitive Targets, Recce, etc.) and of course, analyzes results of the missions with debriefing for the participating crews. This year’s leading scenario was the conflict between two imaginary countries, the Blue Land and the Red Land.
During these twelve days, around 600 personnel of the Turkish Air Force were involved in launching fighters from most of its Tactical Air Commands and along with other 450 personnel of the other participating air arms, the exercise accumulated a total of around 400 sorties. In the exercise’s scenarios, strike packages faced all available air defence systems provided by all branches of the Turkish armed forces. The Turkish Air Force cooperated with other assets from the Turkish Army and the Turkish Navy. All the participating Air Arms trained in engaging various target types, ranging from tanks and frigates to air bases or other high-value assets.
Two missions were flown every day (Eagle 1 and 2), one in the morning and one in the afternoon, each one involving 30-40 aircraft. During the exercise some missions were also involving air-air refuelling. This was done by two KC-135s of the Turkish Air Force. One was already deployed at the base and another was taking off from its base and was escorting the fighters during their mission.
Battlefield situational awareness was greatly enhanced by using a flying radar asset like the NATO E-3A AWACS (Konya is a Forward Operating Base for NATO’s AEW&C Force) or the Turkish Air Force E-7T (Boeing 737) Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) Peace Eagle aircraft operated by the resident 131 Filo. Both could provide real time battlefield overview either via data link or verbally such as targets, location of friendly forces in the area and to provide tactical information to defeat enemy forces.
During the missions all flight information was transmitted back to the Command and control centre via ACMI (Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation) in real time. This year the Turkish aircraft of Anatolian Eagle were testing a new ACMI system developed by a private Turkish contractor DST and the results were very satisfied. After the mission, the aircrews from both Blue and Red forces were debriefed in the main briefing room to gather lessons learnt in order to improve their skills.
With large exercise areas available over land and sea that extend 50.000 square miles in surface and up to 50,000 feet from the ground, equipped with modern threat systems, the Turkish Air Force can organize an absolute full-scale exercise similar to the American Red Flag.
Obviously the goal for the Anatolian Eagle exercise is to become the most realistic and demanding exercise of the East, able to provide all participants with a simulated wartime environment and the highest level of training. In other words, a “Red Flag” type of exercise with a Turkish stamp on it. This is clearly the ambition of the Turkish officials. The main question is what kind of Air Forces will be invited in the near future…