F-15s Deploy to Turkey for Exercise

USAF F-15C Eagles assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, England, fly with Turkish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons during Anatolian Eagle 15, on June 17, 2015, in Turkey. Air Force photo by MSgt. Nick Hodge.

F-15Es and airmen from RAF Lakenheath, England, have touched down in Turkey to fly in the large Anatolian Eagle exercise there for the first time since 2015.

The exercise comes at a fraught time in US-Turkish relations, as the dispute about Turkey’s plan to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air-defense system and its impact on the country’s involvement in the F-35 program continues.

Anatolian Eagle is taking place at an air base in Konya, Turkey, and includes other partner air forces, though the specific participants have not been announced. The exercise focuses on “improving readiness and interoperability among participating units,” according to US Air Forces in Europe.

Last week, the Pentagon announced it is “unwinding” Turkey from the F-35 program because of its intent to buy the S-400. In a letter to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Turkey still can change course, but until then, “an orderly cessation of Turkish participation” in the program is necessary beginning June 12.

Leadership at Luke AFB, Ariz., grounded Turkish F-35 pilots in training and blocked their access to secure locations. Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord said June 7 that Turkish pilots could keep flying, but Luke leadership grounded them in advance of the deadline.

Andrew Winternitz, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, said June 7 that the US is committed to sustaining its partnership with Turkey through exercises. However, if the country finalizes its purchase of the surface-to-air missile system, Winternitz suggested the US would evaluate its future relationship with the Turks.

“If they do set up the S-400, that is going to affect how we look at those types of exercises in the future,” he said.

In 2015, a dozen F-15C/Ds and 250 airmen from Lakenheath’s 493rd Fighter Squadron participated in Anatolian Eagle. That year’s iteration included NATO allied aircraft from Germany, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, along with Pakistan.