The 2023 multi national iteration of Exercise Anatolian Eagle (AE2023/2) took place at Konya Air Base in central Turkey in early May, with exercise missions being flown between Tuesday 2nd and Thursday 11th May. Chris Wood reports from central Turkey for GAR.
Anatolian Eagle is a high level tactical training exercise providing realistic combat training opportunities for Turkish Air Force squadrons and allied nations. It is considered to be at the same level as the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercises and occurs several times a year. However, only one iteration includes significant numbers of allied nations.
The training takes place in a high threat environment in dedicated airspace, the main area of which is roughly 180 NMs (nautical miles) by 215 NMs, from the surface to 50,000 feet, centred approximately 70 miles east of Konya. Additionally, there is a maritime operations area of 140 NMs by 75 NMs between the Turkish coast and the north west coast of Cyprus. This amount of airspace allows more than 60 aircraft to participate.
Since it’s inception in June 2001, there have been 49 exercises, involving aircraft from 15 countries, split between European nations and nations to the east of Turkey, plus the USA and NATO. Nearly 39,000 personnel using over 3,100 aircraft have flown in excess of 25,000 sorties, clocking up over 40,000 flying hours whilst benefiting from the training. Other exercises are also flown from Konya, adding to these totals.
The objective of Anatolian Eagle is to prepare aircrew for combat operations, thereby reducing the loss of inexperienced aircrews and aircraft in the early stages of conflicts. Exchanges of experiences are encouraged 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.
The Anatolian Eagle Training Centre has it’s own dedicated facilities which include operations buildings, accommodation blocks, social facilities and a dedicated Eagle ramp on the eastern side of the airfield.
For the exercises, it has three main components. The visiting squadrons make up the Blue Force and are the Training Audience. The Red Force are the Training Aid whilst the White Force provide Command and Control (C2).
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), callsign ‘Dagger’. They are controlled by Ground Controllers, callsign ‘Redeye’, and augmented by a range of ground based air defence systems, call sign ‘Hammer’, which are mostly mobile radar and anti-aircraft missile and gun systems.
The White Force achieves its aims by determining the level of training, developing scenarios, releasing the Air Tasking Order, monitoring the missions and assessing and analysing the results.
Fundamentally the Blue Force are given targets to attack in the Red lands using Composite Air Operations (COMAO), which are defended by the Red Force and 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.
This year saw international participation, for the third consecutive year, from Azerbaijan with a pair of Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoots plus regular attendees Pakistan who this year brought five Block 52 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons. They were joined by Qatar with five Eurofighter Typhoons, the United Arab Emirates with four F-16E/Fs, the United Kingdom with a further four Typhoons and NATO with a Boeing E-3A Sentry in the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) role. The Royal Saudi Air Force was also scheduled to take part with Boeing F-15C Eagles but is believed to have withdrawn shortly before the exercise started.
All the visiting nations were operating from Konya with the exception of the UK’s Typhoons which were mainly operating from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. They were observed on various tracking sites heading to the training area, along with an RAF Airbus Voyager for in flight refuelling. A number of other nations sent observers, including Georgia, Libya, Morocco and Uzbekistan.
Turkish participation amounted to 24 F-16C/Ds from various squadrons and four McDonnell F-4E-2020 Phantoms, which all deployed to Konya for the duration of the exercise. Also taking part was one Konya based Boeing E-7T ‘Wedgetail’ AWACS from 131 Filo and a further 10 F-16s from the Konya based 132 Filo. Additionally, one Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker was allocated to the exercise which operated from its home base at Incirlik, and a pair of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the shape of a TAI Anka-S and a Bayraktar Akinci Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, also reportedly operating from their home bases. There was also participation from the Turkish Navy.
The priorities for this exercise were 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 were responsible for tactical planning, briefings and mission execution. The exercise was designed to give maximum freedom to the aircrew to solve the problems presented by the tactical scenarios. Most days saw two missions being flown, and the participants also had the opportunity to fly missions outside the exercise in accordance with their training needs.
240 sorties were planned for the exercise, against 110 ground targets with a desired success rate of 80% hitting the desired mean point of impact. For air-to-air engagements, a 20% success rate was desired, with a less than 20% loss rate for the Blue Force.
Anatolian Eagle attracts a lot of interest and is also an opportunity for the Turkish Air Force to highlight it’s capabilities. During this year’s exercise the Public Affairs team organized a Media Day, two Spotter’s Days and a Distinguished Visitors (DV) day. This provided opportunities for both the Solo Turk and Turkish Stars display teams to perform.
On May 9th during the first Spotter’s Days a third Azerbaijani Su-25 was noted, flying with what appeared to be a pair of 1000 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 1000 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 it’s current radar.
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. It will no doubt be a permanent fixture on the exercise calendar for many years to come.