Sharpening talons

Anatolian Eagle 2013-2 (or ‘Anadolu Kartali’ in Turkish), at Konya from June 10 to 20, was the latest training exercise in a long-running series hosted by the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force). Three Anatolian Eagle exercises take place there each year for Turkey’s and NATO air forces to sharpen their war-fighting skills.

First held in 2001, Anatolian Eagle was conceived and arranged to mirror the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercises. It aims to verify and evaluate the combat readiness of the Turkish AF’s tactical flying units and its capability to manage the development of tactical air training, and data from the exercise is collected to contribute to the air force’s ongoing air combat studies. It also puts participants under pressure to reach the required level of combat readiness in the shortest time, helps define operational requirements and supports test and evaluation of new equipment and armament.

Konya (designated ‘3ncu Ana Jet Us’, or 3rd Main Jet Base) is a large airfield which currently hosts two fast-jet squadrons — 132 Filo with F-4E-2020 Phantoms and F-16C Fighting Falcons, and 133 Filo which operates NF-5As. Also at Konya are Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft of 131 Filo, the Turkish Stars aerobatic team and the AS532AL Super Pumas of 135 Filo. The base includes a dedicated Anatolian Eagle Training Centre (AETC) responsible for planning and overseeing the exercise.

Ideal Location

Close to Konya, the Anatolian highlands and surrounding areas present few limitations to military flying. The Taunus mountain range offers 120,000km2 (4,633 square miles) of free airspace and air-to-ground ranges which satisfy the need for realistic training. East of Konya are ranges at Karapinar, Koc and Tersakan, which enable exercise participants to fly from an altitude of zero feet up to 50,000ft (15,240m) and use live munitions. They also boast antiaircraft systems able to simulate the threat posed by modern weapons: SA-6 Gainful, SA-8 Geko and SA-11 Gadfly vehicles and 23mm ZSU-23 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery systems. These are set to be coupled to or replaced by more modern equipment, such as the SA-15 Gauntlet, the SA-10 Grumble and a mobile electronic threat simulator system.

As in all modern air exercises, Anatolian Eagle takes advantage of a sophisticated monitoring system for the aircraft involved, thanks to electronic instrumentation and advanced air combat manoeuvring (ACMI) pods mounted on the aircraft. All the phases of a mission are followed from the ACMI briefing and debriefing room, where all the commanders, aircrews and White Force members (the ‘referees’ and flight safety officers who oversee the exercise) convene. Each flying day usually has two main missions, one in the morning (Eagle 1, at about 10:00 hours local time) and one in the afternoon (Eagle 2, from about 14:00 hours). Usually these are combined air operations when the Blue Forces launch more than 30 aircraft to carry out a specific series of tasks while the Red Force aircraft form the opposing force.

Days in Anatolian Eagle exercises are long. The briefing and debriefing rooms in the AETC are busy from early in the morning, at 07:00, until 20:30 hours and even later. The mass briefings and debrief are held in a large, modern ‘theatre’ room, in the main AETC building which seats 450. Mission briefings are attended mostly by fighter and attack pilots who will carry out escort, combat air patrol, offensive and defensive counter air, close air support, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defences and other roles. A search and rescue service is assigned to 135 Filo’s AS532ALs. Transport aircraft sometimes present at Anatolian Eagle conduct high-value asset missions, simulating the presence of aircraft of strategic or tactical importance whose defence becomes paramount for the Blue Force.

Middle East Involvement

Of the three Anatolian Eagle exercises staged each year, only the second is designed to host international air forces. Other NATO countries’ involvement is important for the Turkish AF because it develops experience in working side-by-side with fellow member air arms. But Anatolian Eagle 2013-2 didn’t involve NATO air forces other than Turkey’s because of economic constraints.

It did however see participation from the Middle East, with contingents from the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF). Although these countries are outside NATO, the Libyan war in 2011 — when Arab air forces flew alongside the Western alliance’s — underlined the importance of exercises like Anatolian Eagle in bringing different nations together for training. The RSAF sent a detachment of eight F-15C and F-15D Eagles from 13 Squadron of 3 Wing, based at the King Abdullah Aziz AB. The UAEAF dispatched six F-16E Block 60 multirole fighters from Al Dhafra AB.

The Turkish AF provided the bulk of the forces. Thirty-eight of its aircraft participated, numbering 27 F-16C/F-16Ds (from 141, 142, 151, 152, 191 and 192 Filos), eight F-4E-2020s (provided by 111 and 132 Filos), one KC-135R from 101 Filo (which flew from the home base at Incirlik), a C-130E from 222 Filo and a CN235 from 125 Filo.

Aircraft playing the role of ‘aggressors’ as the Red Air force in the exercise were Block 50+ F-16C/F-16Ds from 142 Filo and F-4E 2020s from 132 Filo. The latter is a dedicated adversary squadron and, marking its role, has a red star in its badge, similar to US Air Force aggressor units.

The airborne command and control mission was provided by two E-3As of the NATO Airborne Earning Warning Force from Geilenkirchen in Germany. To support the two foreign detachments, the RSAF sent a C-130H and the UAEAF a C-17A.

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