Aviation News Journal
Anatolian Eagle 2023
Text and photography by Erik Bruijns and Fred van Peursem
Every year, the Turkish Air Force and allied nations gather at Konya Air Base in the middle of Turkey for Anatolian Eagle.
This international exercise is a high-level tactical training exercise providing realistic combat training opportunities. It is considered to be at the same level as the US Air Force’s Red Flag. In addition to national versions during the year, there is always one iteration that includes significant numbers of allied nations. The training takes place in a high-threat environment in dedicated airspace. The main training area is roughly 180 nautical miles by 215 nautical miles, with a ceiling of up to 50,000 feet, centred approximately 70 miles east of Konya. Additionally, there is a maritime operations area of 140 by 75 nm between the Turkish coast and the northwest coast of Cyprus. This amount of airspace allows more than 60 aircraft to participate.
A 132 Filo F-16C departs from Konya for another Red Force mission during Anatolian Eagle.
The objective of Anatolian Eagle is to prepare aircrew for combat operations, as Lt. Col. Hakan Girgin, AETC Commander explained, “We are training to reduce the loss of inexperienced aircrews and aircraft in the early stages of a conflict. We provide air training to improve the skills of the pilots, but we also encourage exchanges of experiences to improve interoperability. To achieve these aims, Anatolian Eagle seeks to provide the most realistic training domain to enable aircrews to execute their tactics, to exchange ideas and to maintain aircrew and Ground Control Interception controller combat readiness status, so that they can survive in a combat environment”.
Eight 132 Filo F-16s provide a mini elephant walk. 132 Filo acts as Red Force during the Anatolian Eagle exercises.
Lt. Col. Hakan Girgin continued, “For the exercises, we divide the participants in three main components. The visiting squadrons make up the Blue Force and are the training audience. The Red Force is the training aid, whilst the White Force provide Command and Control (C2) for the whole exercise. The Red Force has three elements. It consists of a force of Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons in the aggressor role provided by 132 Weapons and Tactics Squadron (132 Filo). They are controlled by Ground Controllers, operating under the callsign ‘Redeye’, and augmented by a range of ground-based air defence systems, operating under the call sign ‘Hammer’, which are mostly mobile radar and anti-aircraft missile and gun systems. The White Force is responsible for determining the level of training, developing scenarios, releasing the Air Tasking Order, monitoring the missions, and assessing and analysing the results. For the 2023 Anatolian Eagle edition we started the exercise with a scenario where a pipeline was under attack by the Red Force. The Blue Force has been given targets to defend this pipeline and to secure the pipeline. The missions were flown using Composite Air Operations (COMAO), which are defended by the Red Force while all operations are monitored by the White Force using the Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation system. After analysis, the Blue Force success rate can be determined by the time the debriefing is complete”.
The crew of F-16D Block 52 belonging to 5 Squadron 'Falcons' prepares for departure.
“The priorities for this exercise are to practice procedures and tactics for COMAO, time sensitive targeting, dynamic targeting, high value airborne asset protection and anti-surface forces air operations. The participating aircrew are responsible for tactical planning, briefings, and mission execution. We designed the exercise to give maximum freedom to the aircrew to solve the problems presented by the tactical scenarios. Each day will see one main mission in the morning, followed by local missions where the participants can train additional scenarios”.
A Turkish E-7T Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft operated by the resident 131 Filo provided real time battlefield overviews.
Lt. Col. Hakan Girgin continued, “A total of 240 sorties have been planned for the exercise, against 110 ground targets. The exercise has been divided in such a way taht 80% is flown in an air-to-ground configuration and 20% in air-to-air configuration. Anatolian Eagle has carved an important and unique place for itself, being able to offer unrivalled training facilities for both European, Asian and Middle Eastern customers”.
161 Filo is a LANTIRN squadron specializing in night strike missions. They use the F-16 Block 50+.
Since its inception in June 2001, there have been 49 exercises, involving aircraft from 15 different countries, split between European nations and nations to the east of Turkey, as well as the USA and NATO. Nearly 39,000 personnel using over 3,100 aircraft have flown more than 25,000 sorties, clocking up over 40,000 flying hours whilst benefiting from the training. In addition to the 49 Anatolian Eagle exercises, there have been a variety of other exercises flown from Konya, adding to these totals.
NATO E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft.
A selection of participants from different nations participated during this year’s edition. The United Arab Emirates Air Force participated with four of their F-16E/F Block 60 Desert Falcons. These are considered by many as the most advanced F-16 built to date. Initially the presence of Saudi Arabia had been announced, but at the last moment the participation of the F-15s of the Royal Saudi Air Force was cancelled.
Full afterburner take off from UAE F-16E block 60. One of the most modern F-16s flying around the world.
The Qatar Emiri Air Force returned to Konya after a year of absence with five of its brand new Eurofighter Typhoons from 7 Squadron (1st Fighter Wing), Tamim Air Base. This marked the debut of the Qatari Typhoons in an international exercise abroad, just less than a year after the first deliveries of the type (the first Typhoons arrived in Qatar on 27 August 2022). The Royal Air Force participated with four of their Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4’s. Even though two were observed at Konya in the second week of the exercise, they were mainly operating from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. They were observed on various tracking sites heading to the training area, along with a RAF Airbus Voyager for in-flight refuelling.
Qatar Emiri Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon
Another interesting debut at Anatolian Eagle was made by the Pakistan Air Force which sent five F-16C/D Block 52’s belonging to 5 (MR) Squadron ‘Falcons’ based at Jacobabad/Shahbaz Air Base. The Azerbaijan Air Force is starting to become a regular addition to the exercise due to the tight connections between Azerbaijan and Turkey. This year they again participated with a pair of Sukhoi Su-25s Frogfoots from Kürdəmir Air Base. A single NATO E-3A AWACS along with a Turkish E-7T Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft operated by the resident 131 Filo provided real time battlefield overview, relay vectors and target priority, enhancing situational awareness for the fighters involved in the operations. As always, there were also a number of other nations providing observers, including Georgia, Libya, Morocco and Uzbekistan.
A Pakistan Air Force F-16 departs the Eagle platform. Pakistan participated for the first time with their block 52 aircraft in Anatolian Eagle.
Turkish participation amounted to 24 F-16C/Ds from various squadrons (113, 131, 151, 152, 161, 181 and 191 Filo) and four McDonnell F-4E-2020 Phantom IIs, belonging to 111 Filo, which all deployed to Konya for the duration of the exercise. A further ten F-16s from the Konya based 132 Filo provided Red Force participants. Additionally, one Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker was allocated to the exercise which operated from its home base at Incirlik. Also, a pair of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles from 302 Filo in the shape of a TAI Anka-S and a Bayraktar Akinci Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, which also reportedly operating from their home bases. There was also participation from the Turkish Navy.
One of four F-4E-2020 Phantom II’s, belonging to 111 Filo, seen taking off. With a year of absence they were participating again from Konya.
The cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey is developing more and more. Even the Turkish aviation industry is helping with the modernization and testing of new systems. Two Su-25 aircraft of the Azerbaijani Air Force have been subjected to extensive avionic modernization using the experience gained in the ÖZGUR Project with the participation of TUSA zas, ASELSAN and TÜBİTAK SAGE. This includes the ability to carry air-air, air-space munitions, data-link and pods (such as ASELPOD, EHPOD and EDPOD) produced by Turkish Defense and Aviation Industry companies. During Anatolian Eagle an Azerbaijani Su-25 was noted flying with what appeared to be a pair of 1,000 lb bombs fitted with Wing Assistance Guidance Kits (Kanatlı Güdüm Kiti – KGK) produced by TÜBİTAK SAGE. The KGK converts unguided 500lb and 1000lb bombs into smart munitions, and significantly increases their range. It is reported that the Azerbaijan Air Force has ordered 1,000 kits. The aircraft returned minus one bomb. The Su-25 was observed flying with a 132 Filo F-16C in a digital camouflage scheme. This aircraft arrived that morning and is believed to be the first Block 30 aircraft to receive upgrades as part of the Özgür (Liberty) Project. This upgrade replaces critical avionics with domestic components, in particular an Indigenous Mission Computer (Millî Görev Bilgisayarı/MGB) with locally produced software. Also being replaced is the Identification Friend or Foe equipment and another significant upgrade will be the replacement of the original radar with the locally produced MURAD Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, developed by Aselsan. This will provide a significant improvement to the aircraft’s capabilities compared to its current radar.
Two Su-25s of the Azerbaijani Air Force