Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Turkish “Anatolian Eagle 2016” exercise retrospective

Less than two months before the failed coup, the Turkish Air Force hosted its traditional medium-scale high-tech exercise at Konya airbase, in Anatolia.

Held at Konya, in central Anatolia, south of Ankara, Turkey, Exercise Anatolian Eagle, is a very well-known series of exercises hosted by the Turkish Air Force three times a year (with one edition open to allied air forces) and attended each year by several foreign air arms. It is inspired by the U.S. Red Flag and Maple Flag series, the aim of which is to train fighter pilots for the first few days of a modern conflict.

The exercise provides the participating Turkish and foreign nations air forces an interesting opportunity to perform joint combat training in real-world scenarios that include Combined Air Operations (COMAOs) on tactical and strategic targets defended by Aggressors aircraft and Surface to Air Missile (SAM) threats of all types.

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The latest AE took place between May 24 and Jun. 9 and saw the involvement of about 55 Turkish combat planes, including F-16C/Ds from the 132, 141, 151, 152, 161, 162, 182 and 191 Filo (Squadron) and 8 F-4E-2020 Phantoms belonging to the 111 Filo; as well as 6 Tornado (IDS and ECR) of the Italian Air Force, six F-16AM/BM of the 11 Squadron “Arrows” of the Pakistani Air Force, a unit with a multi-role task that serves also as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) of the Viper; and 8 Tornado IDSs from the RSAF (Royal Saudi Air Force) 11 Wing.

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The focus of the latest edition of AE was dynamic and time-sensitive targeting, as well as close-air support missions, types of missions that are part of the ATOs (Air Tasking Orders) of most of the real combat operations conducted by all the participating air forces: the TuAF against the Kurdish PKK separatists, the Saudi against Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Pakistani against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, whereas the Italians support Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS (previously with the Tornado IDSs and currently with AMX ACOLs) although the ItAF jets perform reconnaissance missions only. Interestingly, among the aircraft that the Italians flew to Konya there were also three Tornado ECR, that are highly-specialised aircraft capable to perform SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) tasks.

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As happened in the previous years, the AE attracted thousands of aircraft spotters and media representatives, eager to take some cool shots of the aircraft (including some rather “exotic” ones) taking part in the exercise. Among them, there was Remo Guidi, who took the photographs you can find in this post.

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It’s not clear what role Konya airbase and some of its officers played in the failed coup on Jul. 15-16. There are still many conflicting reports about the air operations over Turkey in the night of the attempted military takeover. For sure, some TuAF officers, including the base operations commander, were arrested on Jul. 17 under suspiction of being involved in the coup attempt.

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Konya is an important base, the headquarters of the Anatolian Eagle Training Center Command, that plans, organizes and conducts the AE drills and has the important role of testing and validating TuAF’s aircraft and units’ ability and preparedness for combat, establishing a background knowledge to achieve the military aims at war in the shortest time and with minimum effort. In simple words, Konya is where tactics are developed and put to test.  Moreover, it hosts the 131 Filo, the squadron that operates the E-7T (B737AEW&C); 132 Filo that flies the F-16C/D Block 50; 135 Filo, equipped with AS532AL, CN235M-100 and UH-1H helicopters and it is the homebase of the Turkish Stars, the TuAF display team.

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Image credit: Remo Guidi

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Pakistani F-16C/D Block 52+ jets enroute to Green and Red Flag in the U.S. perform stopover at Lajes Field

Pakistani Air Force F-16s are in bound Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

On Jul. 19, six Pakistani AF F16C/D Block 52+ combat jets landed at Lajes Field, Azores, along with two USAF KC-135R Stratotanker aerial refuelers from McConnell AFB.

The aircraft, belonging to the n° 5 Squadron “Falcons” of the PAF, were in bound to U.S. where they will take part in the Green Flag and Red Flag exercises at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

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The aircraft are deploying to the U.S. (a trip of +7,700 miles) via Saudi Arabia, Souda Bay (Crete), Lajes (Portugal).

This is the second time the PAF Vipers take part in a Red Flag: the very first time was in 2010.

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Image credit: APS-Associação Portugal Spotters

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Exclusive: all the details about the air ops and aerial battle over Turkey during the military coup to depose Erdogan

F-16s, KC-135Rs, A400Ms: known and unknown details about the night of the Turkey military coup.

Here below is the account of what happened on Jul. 15, when a military takeover was attempted in Turkey. It is based on the information gathered by Turkish defense journalist Arda Mevlutoglu, by analysis of the Mode-S logs and reports that have been published by several media outlets in the aftermath of the coup.

Shortly after 22.00 local time on July 15th, air traffic control (ATC) operator in Akinci 4th Main Jet Base (MJB), an airbase located to the northwest of Ankara, contacted his counterpart at Esenboga Airport ATC. Akinci airbase is the homebase of 141, 142 and 143 Filo (Squadrons) of the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) equipped with F-16Cs.

4MJB operator informed that two local-based F-16s were going to take off, fly at 21-22,000 feet and coordination with Esenboga ATC could not be possible.

Shortly after, two F-16s calsign “Aslan 1” (“Lion 1”) and “Aslan 2” (“Lion 2”) from 141 Squadron took off from 4MJB.

After take off, Aslan 1 contacted Esenboga and requested permission to climb to the designated altitude, which was granted. When asked about the intention, the pilot replied “special mission, going to fly over Ankara city.”

Shortly after this communication, telephone calls from the city began reaching Esenboga, telling jets flying at very high-speed at low altitude. The time is around 22.20 – 22.25, as videos of F-16s flying over Ankara at rooftop level were filmed.

Puzzled by the reports, Esenboga ATC called 4MJB ATC for an explanation. The reply was: “They took off with IFF transponders switched off.” 4MJB also informed Esenboga that a new pair of F-16s with callsign “Sahin” (“Hawk”) also took off at very low altitude.

The Sahin pair threatened civilian air traffic, which was diverted through alternative approach routes.

Shortly after that, Esenboga ATC detected a KC-135R callsign “Asena 02” from Incirlik 10th Main Tanker Base (MTB). The presence of this KC-135R, from 101 Filo (whose radio callsign is “Asena”), is confirmed by Mode-S logs collected by a feeder in Ankara.

At this point Esenboga ATC had no contact with the mentioned F-16s and KC-135R. The Turkish Vipers began air-to-air refuelling from “Asena 02” periodically. Noteworthy, as many as 4 KC-135R reportedly flew from Incirlik (Asena 01 to 04 – the first appearing on the Mode-S logs).

It was reported that coup supporting aircraft and helicopters opened fire at:

  • Police Special Operations Forces headquarters at Golbasi (bombed by F-16. 47 policemen killed)
  • Police Aviation Division headquarters at Golbasi
  • Turkish Grand National Assembly building (TBMM)
  • Turkish Police general headquarters
  • MIT (national intelligence organization) headquarters at Yenimahalle
  • TurkSAT (state satellite operator) headquarters at Golbasi
  • Presidental Palace at Bestepe

For a few hours, coup F-16s flew over Ankara at very high speeds, often breaking the sound barrier at very low altitudes, releasing flares.

It was reported also that F-16s from both sides entered dogfight over Ankara and Istanbul, however no aircraft has been shot down according to the reports obtained thus far. Interestingly, one of the coup plotters aboard a “rebel” F-16 was the pilot who shot down the Russian Su-24 Fencer that had violated the Turkish airspace back in November 2015.

F-16s from Dalaman, Erzurum and Balikesir took off to intercept coup F-16s that according to the reports were as many as 6.

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Merzifon 5MJB, which is one of the closest MJB’s to Ankara was at renovation and closed. All its fighters were temporarily based in Erzurum.

Meanwhile, “Asena 02” left Ankara and climbed to max operational altitude, circling over Kastamonu. Asena 03 took over its role of supporting coup F-16s. A couple of arriving F-16s were directed to Asena 02 to shoot it down, but did not do so probably due to the fact that it was flying over residential areas.

At least one AH-1 Cobra, probably an AH-1W type opened fire with its 20mm gun to protesting crowd and TBMM. This helicopter or another one repotedly opened fire at TurkSAT (State satellite operator) headquarters at Golbasi. This helicopter was reportedly shot down by a loyalist F-16.

A S-70A opened fire at the front gates of MIT campus. Reportedly tried to insert commandos to take over the facility and kidnap Hakan Fidan, head of the service. This helicopter is reportedly shot down (not confirmed).

One or two Air Force AS532 CSAR helicopters raided a wedding ceremony of a high rank general in Istanbul which was attended by many generals. CSAR commandos kidnapped them.

8 cargo aircraft (C-160 and A400M included – one using callsign “Esem 26” was in the air when the takeover unfolded) took off from Kayseri and landed at Malatya 7MJB. They were full of weapons to be used by coup.

Coup F-16s searched for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plane, TC-ATA around Istanbul to shoot it down. According to some media reports rebel TuAF F-16s had the plane in their sights: it’s unclear whether they had a real lock-on, rather that they probably were searching the sky for the Gulfstream IV.

Furthermore, TC-ATA used a callsign THY 8456 to disguise as a Turkish Airlines airplane (Turkish’s callsign is THY) and the risk of shooting down another plane, and losing credibility too, could be a factor affecting the coup’s F-16s to shot down his plane and kill Erdogan.

TC-ATA was flying from Dalaman to Istanbul Ataturk, which was raided by coup supporters. ATC was taken over, all lights off. Shortly before TC-ATA’s landing, it was taken from rebels.

Details of Erdogan’s flight can be found here.

Early morning of 16 July, fighters (probably F-4E 2020) from Eskisehir 2MJB bombed the main runway of 4MJB whilst at least one Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 was circling to the west of Ankara most probably in Combat Air Patrol. In the afternoon on the same day an E-7 AEW of 131 Filo and an F-16 of 142 Filo were flying in Ankara area, likely ready to intercept any helicopter or small plane trying to flee towards Greece.

Update: please note that unlike what has been mistakenly reported by some media outlets, no U.S. KC-135 took part in the operation according to the information we have collected. All the tankers whose presence has been confirmed are Turkish Air Force tankers from 101 Filo, as explained in the article.

H/T to Arda Mevlutoglu for widely contributing to this post. Additional info from @CivMilAir and @Avischarf

TuAF F-16-take-off

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U.S. Army spyplane pops-up on Flightradar24 during mission south of the Korean DMZ

Online flight tracking reminds us that the secretive EO-5Cs regularly fly along the border between North and South Korea.

The above screenshot was taken from Flightradar24 by Guglielmo Guglielmi, an expert in online flight tracking.

It shows a U.S. Army Dash 7 surveillance aircraft, designated EO-5C, during a mission south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Three such Army aircraft packed with sensors, known as ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low), are believed to be stationed in South Korea. The aircraft don’t wear military markings but carry a civil registration (in this case N59AG) to disguise their real mission and some of their sensors can be retracted making the airplanes more similar to a regional liner rather than a special operations asset involved in a clandestine mission.

The EO-5C can detect and fix enemy transmissions on all the radio spectrum, collect both IR (Infrared) and visibile-light very high-resolution imagery, track moving ground targets as well as detect and monitor specific features of the ground below: capable to determine how footprints in the sand change over time, the ARL is believed to be used in Korea to hunt for Pyongyang‘s underground tunnels/facilities.

The Army has deployed the first of these ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) planes to the Korean Peninsula in 1996. An EO-5C could be frequently monitored on FR24 flying from Crete to Libya to perform intelligence gathering activities in North Africa until it was replaced by another special plane: an ATR-42.

Once again it’s worth mentioning that a spook plane flying a reconnaissance mission in theater should not be trackable online using a web browser….

EO-5C US Army

Top image, FR24 via Guglielmo Guglielmi. Bottom image: U.S. Army.

 

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Turkish F-16 patrolling the skies near Ankara could be tracked online

Quite surprisingly a Turkish Air Force F-16C Block 50 could be tracked on Flightradar24.

In the morning on Jul. 16, when it was already enough clear that the military coup in Turkey had failed, at least one Turkish Air Force F-16 was circling to the west of Ankara.

We don’t know whether the TuAF F-16C Block 50 was flown by a loyalist or a “rebel” pilot supporting the takeover because, since the beginning of the revolt, reports have been contradictory as to whether the Air Force supported the coup or remained loyal to Erdogan, that had landed at Istanbul Ataturk international airport overnight.

For sure, a certain number of aircraft supported the coup: Turkish Air Force F-16s performed ultra low-level passes, at rooftop altitude, with full afterburners over Turkey’s capital Ankara during the opening hours of the takeover. These were reportedly refuelled mid-air by TuAF KC-135s launched from Incirlik airbase.

However, some F-16s remained loyal to the Government as seems to be confirmed by the fact that a Turkish Black Hawk helicopter carrying some Turkish high-ranking officers supporting the defiant military was shot down by a Viper.

Anyway, what’s really interesting is that the presence of the Turkish F-16 and its route, altitude and speed (with GS varying from 180 to 570 kts) could be monitored online thanks to Flightradar24.com via MLAT.

The aircraft, serial number 94-0086, could be first spotted around 07.45 UTC and tracked until around 09.00 UTC when it egressed the area towards the southeast (in the direction of Incirlik).

Here below is a video recording of the mission flown by the Turkish F-16.

Image and video via Flightradar24

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