The annual multinational Air Force exercise, Anatolian Eagle kickstarted June 21 at 3rd main jet base in Konya, Turkey. The 2021 edition of this Turkish base exercise will witness participation of multiple nations, with 3 international allies pitching in their combat platforms, namely Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Qatar.
Anatolian Eagle Training Center (AETC) in Konya is Europe’s specialised training facility that provides a platform for various Air Forces around the globe to conduct various war-time simulations in a realistic combat environment and improve the capabilities of combat elements, evaluate new tactics and techniques, develop joint and combined operational procedures while also maximizing mission effectiveness by increasing mutual support and interoperability between forces.
The foreign contingent involve 2x MiG-29B “Fulcrum” and 2x Su-25 “Frogfoot” from Azerbaijan Air Force; 5x JF-17A “Thunder” Block 2 from Pakistan Air Force; 4x Rafale F3R from Qatar Air Force. The Turkish Air Force will reportedly deployed multiplle squadrons of its F-16C/D “Fighting Falcon” fighter aircraft, E-7T “Wedgetail” AEW&C, KC-135R “Stratotanker” aerial refuellers and ANKA-S Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The Turkish Naval forces will be participating as well, with 2x Frigates and 2x Fast Attack Crafts.
While Anatolian Eagle is held on annual basis and witnessed entries of variety of aircraft such as F-15, F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon, Mirage 2000, AMX, etc., this is the first time when French origin Dassault Rafale is going to make its debut at the event. Flown by Qatar Air Force, the highlight of this Anatolian Eagle edition is the Rafale F3R.
Dassault Rafale F3R
The Dassault Rafale is a renowned twin engine medium weight fighter aircraft and owns the title of a true “omnirole” fighter aircraft. The platform features high-end sensors and systems that allows to precisely conduct and coordinate combat missions with high-survivability and situational awareness in all-weather scenarios. The aircraft is equipped with RBE-2AA Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that can track fighter sized airborne targets within 200 km radius and offers multiple modes including Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging for terrain mapping.
The aircraft also features integrated Electronic Warfare suite SPECTRA (Self Protection Equipment for Countering Threats for Rafale Aircraft) that is known to provide full-fledged situational awareness and ability to greatly enhance the survivability in hostile environment. The involvement of the Rafale is going to be a bonanza for Air Forces of Pakistan and Turkey for variety of other reasons as well, that also includes the point that they will eventually face the aircraft in future conflicts.
Watch by Turkey and Pakistan
The regular engagements over Aegean Sea introduced the public with various mock dogfights between Hellenic and Turkish fighter fleets. Aircraft like the F-4 Phantom , the F-16 and Mirage 2000 are often locked on by adversaries and HUD footages are also released by both sides frequently. While Greek and Turkish conflict over Aegean Sea has not turned into a “hot war”, the recent plan to purchase the Rafale by Greece surely disrupts the power balance in the region as Turkey will be eventually left with no equal match to the aircraft, albeit having a quantitative edge.
Athens signed a US$3 billion deal in early 2021 to acquire 18 airframes of Dassault Rafale aircraft, which also includes 12 second hand aircraft that would be transferred from French Armeè de l’air to Hellenic Air Force after refurbishment.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has followed a doctrine to counter India since past decades. Induction of the Rafale by Indian Air Force in 2020 hastened Pakistan defence forces to fast track procurement of next generation systems that would be capable of countering the former. Both nations in 2019, engaged in 2-day skirmish involving their Air Force assets. The results introduced shortcomings and capabilities of both the organizations and allowed them to restrength and reevaluate their wartime strategies. However, the induction of Rafale in the region drastically changed the power balance, causing a tough challenge for PAF in the skies.
As both Turkey and Pakistan face similar threats, observing the platform closely during the exercise would be helpful in formulating future strategy. A point to be noted is that foreign operators of Rafale own a tailor made user-speciifc variant, that uses different data-link, armament package and systems. Indian Rafales in this case, incorporates Israeli made data-link system coupled with MBDA Meteor medium-to-long range air-to-air missile that is not available in the Qatari variant.
Most of the exercises are generally aimed to evaluate the aircraft’s performance in terms of its engagement, self defence and manuevering capability. However, results of overseas air combat training should not be considered future predictions as there are limitation of both the aircraft and operator’s strength. While exercises offer first impressions on a platform’s strength, it is during war-time when it unleashes the full-fledged capability.