A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief “…. but dear reader, you may well ask, why is a military aviation “blog” concerning itself with Dickens? I have just returned from five days in Turkey, not the bit where Turkish special forces dealt with an Iranian threat to Israeli tourists, but in mainly Moslem towns and villages in that amazing country (and no, I was not sponsored; I paid my own flights, hotels and rental car – all 1/5th of the prices over here). When I first visited for the 90th anniversary of the Turkish Air Force in 2001, “Dolphinarium” weekend, not a happy time, Istanbul and Izmir looked a bit like Tel Aviv, cranes everywhere, huge new infrastructure projects and a booming economy.
Three years ago in Konya, a town near the centre of Turkiye (new name), dry, was also a booming metropolis, think Beer Sheva but clean, with wide straight roads, parks and a light railway system flanking them, an airport that featured flights to and from Istanbul, three major university campuses and religious and non-religious locals walking and talking together. Konya is still dry, it has grown exponentially, but is still clean and friendly, and cheap. 5 star hotel for under 200 shequels a night, and two people pay the same as one, Israeli hoteliers take note, non-kosher (halal) dinner for 40 shequels (equivalent), and pleasant wait staff, not queueing up for a tip. The airport now handles many more flights, domestic and foreign.
It was the same in Kayseri, 300 kilometers further east, even more “frum” where shopping malls look the same as ours, apart from the prices. But I digress.
General Hasan Kucukakyuz, Commander of the Turkish Air Force addresses the media at Anatolian Eagle (AE) Training 2022. This phtoto, and all subsequent images the authors own, using a Canon EOS750D with a 2nd hand Mk1 100-400 zoom – its my birthday in two weeks, the Mk II is much better;-)
In the late 1980s the Turkish Air Force began a modernisation program, phasing out hundreds of older fighter jets and integrating the first of over 200 F-16C/D “Fighting Falcons” (Barak in IAF service).
A line of mainly Turkish F-16s. Just like our Barak fighter jets.
In addition, it was decided to upgrade 52 mainly 1970s vintage F-4E Phantoms (Kurnass in the IAF) with their good mates Israel chosen to modernise half the fleet to Kurnass 2000 “Terminator” standard.
F-4E Phantom 200 “Terminator” or Kurnass 2000 in Israeli service, but still flying with 111 Filo TAF. Greece, Turkiye and allegedly Iran still fly the venerable ‘Toom
At the time Israel and Turkey really were on the same page, encouraged by the Americans to play nicely and protect both each other, and NATOs eastern flank. It is no secret that at the time the Turkish Air Force was distinctly division two, first rate equipment and second rate personnel perhaps due to their compulsary military service rules. To improve the performance of the Air Force, lessons learned at Red Flag in the US and, undoubtedly, from Israeli input, resulted in the inauguration in 2001 of Anatolian Eagle Training at 3rd Main Jet Base, Konya.
An Azerbaijan Air Force (really) Su-25 with an alarming array of mission marks (no, not one for each year of service). Like all Soviet combat a/c it has minimal internal fuel capacity (and no refueling capability) so cannot accidently stray into any neighboring green & pleasant land, by mistake.
The US, Israel, NATO and Turkey were the only participants, and since then Israel had been a regular attendee until 2008, when a certain Turkish politician started making a name for himself and, for my 2 Lire, backed the “wrong horse”.
A major player at AE over the years has been the Pakistan Air Force, this F-16 features a kill marking, allegedly for the downing of an Indian Su-30 (but probably a Mig-21)
The multinational Anatolian Eagle (AE) training (like Israel, the Turks also have a domestic version in winter) provides high level tactical training in a realistic real-time high-threat combat environment. Up to 60 combat aircraft participate in training scenarios over an area 200 x 120 miles (umm, that’s a lot of Kms for my European fan) with a further training area over the sea south of Antalya. For those of you who don’t know, Turkiye is pretty big, 302,450 sq miles, or 20% bigger than Texas, and much of the Anatolian region is open countryside, with snow covered mountains and semi-arad plateaus, ideal for intensive Air Force training.
Since its inception, 15 guest countries have participated in AE with a total of some 2000 aircraft (admittedly, mainly from the Turkish Air Force) flying over 25,000 sorties.
Those of you living in Tel Aviv may hear a rustle in your hedgerow morning and evening, actually it’s usually a pair of these, Royal Air Force Typhoons heading for some patrolling east of us. Four were present at Konya (only one broke down when we were there)
AE consists of three basic missions;
OCA ( Offensive counterair) the suppression of an enemy’s military air power, primarily through ground attacks targeting enemy air bases: disabling or destroying parked aircraft, runways, fuel facilities, hangars, air traffic control facilities and other aviation infrastructure.
DCA (defensive counterair) defensive measures designed to detect, identify, intercept, and destroy or negate enemy forces attempting to attack or penetrate the friendly air environment.
SEAD (Suppression of enemy air defenses) is defined as military action that neutralizes, destroys, or temporarily degrades surface-based enemy air defenses by destructive and/or disruptive means.
The “conformal” fuel tanks on this TAF F-16D look remarkably similar to those manufactured in Israel for our Sufa F-16Is and all F-16 export customers. Remarkable.
Thus, many military platforms, munitions, and processes contribute to SEAD, including reconnaissance and surveillance, stand-off jamming, employment of air-to-surface munitions, and electronic and infrared (IR) countermeasures.
The objectives of the exercise are to increase the operational training level of the pilots, air defense crews and ground personnel in a realistic operational environment. The multinational nature of the exercise also provides a forum for an exchange of ideas and doctrines, and afterwards, to take the lessons learned back to their home squadrons to improve tactics and procedures and raise operational effectiveness.
Obviously never seen at Blue Flag (well, not number1 squadon RJAF, by me, at least) but proudly displaying their colours is this elderly “Netz” formerly in use in the Royal Dutch Air Force
Starved of local multinational training, Israel began looking at the Blue Flag air force exercise which began a few years later at Ovda AFB, and today the Eastern Mediterranean is blessed with both the aforementioned exercises, plus the annual Iniochos meeting in Greece. Consequently, while Israel has changed horses to play with the Greeks, Turkey continues to host other local Air Forces; Qatar, Azerbaijan, Jordan (who of course have been at the last four Blue Flags, despite what Good King Abdullah II would have you believe), Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and a number of NATO members.
You can never have too many Phantom shots
With the IAF training recently in Cyprus undoubtedly these former friends are keeping a watching brief over each other and, when logic and proportion return to our leaders, foolishness and differing beliefs can be replaced by mutual trust and respect, and maybe Turkish F-16s will once again grace our southern Arava skies.
… because I was inverted…
Until then, this “blogger” will continue to visit our militarily strongest neighbour, enjoy great hospitality, cheap prices (did I already mention that) and uncrowded roads!