Anatolian Eagle, Konya AB, Turkey

Monday 8th May - Wednesday 10th May 2023

Pilot training is a fundamental requirement for any air force, and while teaching pilots to fly and operate aircraft can be achieved with simulators and routine training, simulating actual combat is a much harder task. This is where military exercises come in; they provide an opportunity for aircrews to train with and against other aircrew from other nations, often with different aircraft and capabilities. These exercises help aircrews hone their skills in a simulated combat environment, but without the risks of real world combat.

Nick Jennings reports on this year's Anatolian Eagle exercise. Photography by the author and Gordon Duncan.

Since its inception in 2001, the Anatolian Eagle (AE) exercise has become one of the largest annual military exercises in Europe, with over 25,000 sorties flown by air forces from 16 countries. The Anatolian Eagle Training Centre (AETC) is located at the 3rd Main Jet Base in Konya, this is a dual civilian/military facility with twin 11,000ft runways. The AETC is the only dedicated tactical training facility in Europe, with infrastructure built specifically for the exercise.

Lieutenant Colonel Hakan Girgin, AETC Commander, Turkish Air Force said We are happy to host Allied and Partner nations at the Anatolian Eagle Training Center (AETC) Command. Our airmen work to improve their skills and interoperability between the participating nations in training such as Composite Air Operations, Time Sensitive Targeting, Dynamic Targeting, High-Value Airborne Asset Protection, and Anti-Surface Air Operations."

The exercise lasts two weeks, generally with two sorties taking place each day, with the AE Composite Air Operations (COMAO) taking place in the mornings, while in the afternoons non-COMAO operations - such as intercepts, electronic warfare (EW) training and dissimilar air combat training are carried out. Situated on the large Konya plain, the training area covers some 50,000 square miles and includes a maritime training area, with pilots able to fly from ground level up to 50,000ft. This enables pilots to employ tactics and mission profiles without the limitations prevalent in the more built-up areas of world.

Taking a similar format to Red Flag, which Türkiye attended in 1997, AE is designed to simulate a high threat environment, with both air and ground threats. There are two forces - Red force (defending) and a Blue force (attacking). The Blue force comprises the visiting nations and some Turkish Air Force squadrons, while the Red force's duties are carried out by Konya's own 132 Filo - known as the Daggers, flying F-16C/D Fighting Falcons. Blue force's goals specify 110 targets to be hit, with success only being achieved with a greater than 80% hit rate, all whilst losing less than 20% of their aircraft to the Red force. Each participating nation is responsible for its own planning, briefing and execution of their missions.

There were five visiting nations this year, along with NATO, who provided a pair of E-3s for the exercise. Azerbaijan returned for the third year running, since their AE debut in 2021, bringing three Sukhoi Su-25 'Frogfoot' ground attack aircraft from their base in Kürdəmir, although only two took part in the actual AE exercises. These Su-25s were carrying mission markings from their recent conflict with Armenia and were equipped with Talisman air defence suite (ADS) pods.

Regular AE attendees the Pakistan Air Force were also back again, this year No.5 Squadron - known as the Falcons - brought five of their block 52 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons to the AE exercise. No.5 Squadron is the second oldest squadron within the Pakistan Air Force, having been formed just after the creation of the Pakistan state back in 1947. Saudi Arabia had been due to attend this year with their F-15SA Eagles, but withdrew a few weeks before the start of the exercise.

The UAE were also back this year, after tensions between the UAE and Türkiye subsided. The UAE Air Force sent four of their block 60 F-16E/F Fighting Falcons. The block 60 Fighting Falcon is considered to be the most advanced F-16 currently in service, equipped with a solid state AESA radar and a built in FLIR/laser targeting system. Unofficially known as the 'Desert Falcon', the UAE F-16s for AE were equipped with either dummy AGM-88 HARMs or AGM-65 Maverick missiles, depending on their strike mission.

Also representing the Middle East nations, the Qatar Emiri Air Force sent their brand new Eurofighter Typhoons to take part, delivery of which only started towards the end of last year. Their five jets all came from No.7 Squadron and comprised a mix of both single and two seaters all wearing an attractive two-tone grey camouflage scheme. The Royal Air Force have been working closely with the QEAF getting their pilots up to speed on operating the Typhoon, so it wasn't much of a surprise to see the RAF's participation in this year's AE with four Typhoons, which also operated out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus during the exercise.

In addition to the allied/partner nations, six Turkish Air Force F-16 squadrons were part of the Blue force. All in all there were 34 Turkish F-16s taking part on both sides and with the PAF and UAEAF F-16 assets it took this number to over 40 F-16s! Providing Airborne Early Warning and Control NATO's E-3 Sentries operated alongside E-7T 'Wedgetails' from 131 Filo of the Turkish Air Force, these provided 'eye in the sky' radar coverage for the Blue force. Ground based radar assets provided similar coverage for the Red force. UAVs also played a role in the exercise, with both Bayraktar Akıncıs and TAI Ankas providing reconnaissance information.

Of course, the stars of the show (other than the Frogfoots) were the Turkish F-4E2020 Phantoms, four of which took part in the air-to-ground role. Now nearing 50 years old, these Phantoms were modernised in the late 90s by Israeli Aircraft Industries. Fitted with glass cockpits and the ability to carry precision guided munitions, such as the AGM-142 Popeye, AGM-65 Maverick and GBU-10/12 LGBs, assisted by the use of Pave Spike targeting pods. Whilst no match for modern fighters, the F-4 is still a fast aircraft and can carry a decent payload, making it suited for high speed strike missions where it has a modern fighter top cover. All Turkish Phantoms are currently operated by 111 Filo and are expected to remain in service up to 2030.

UKAR would like to thank the Turkish Air Force for their hospitality during our three days at Konya, particularly the Public Affairs Office for arranging our access to the exercise.