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Incirlik Air Base
3700'N 3526'E

Incirlik in Turkish literally means place of the fig or fig orchard, which is what comprised a major portion of the base until 1951. Then, bulldozers and road graders cleared much of the land to make way for the runway and support facilities of a new airfield.

The United States Engineering Group began construction of a 10,000-foot runway at a new base 7 miles east of Adana, and approximately 250 miles southeast of Ankara, Turkey, in the spring of 1951. While work on the runway progressed, an American company, Metcalfe, Hamilton, and Grove, built base facilities and infrastructure under contract.

The United States Air Force (USAF) initially planned to use the base as an emergency staging and recovery site for medium and heavy bombers. Since Turkey shared 360 miles of common border with Soviet territory, Strategic Air Command (SAC) planners considered it an important location. The years to follow would prove the value of Incirlik's location not only in countering the Soviet threat, but also in responding to crises in the Middle East.

The Turkish Air Force desired to operate a jet instrument and gunnery school at the base. Turkey entered the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952 and required American assistance to ensure its military equipment and facilities met NATO standards. The Turkish General Staff (TGS) spent months negotiating an agreement with the USAF concerning joint use of the base, which both parties eventually signed on 6 December 1954. Several weeks later, on 21 February 1955, the base received its first official name, Adana Air Base (AB).

Also in 1954, United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) activated the 7216th Air Base Squadron at Wheelus Field, Libya, to operate Adana AB. However, due to agreements with the Turkish government, American military units in Turkey adopted a cover plan to conceal their designations and missions. Hence, under the Turkey Cover Plan the 7216th was Detachment 10, The United States Logistics Group (Det 10, TUSLOG). In May 1954, the 7216th Air Base Squadron at Wheelus Field, Libya, began transferring people and equipment to Adana Air Base. Adana AB later became known as Incirlik Common Defense Installation. The 7216 ABS, at that time part of the United States Logistics Group, maintained the installation's airfield for a wartime role while making it available as a peacetime training site for rotational air units. An early focus of operations included numerous mobility exercises. Later that year 3 officers and 17 airmen from the 7216th, along with 6 communications specialists, arrived at Adana to prepare for the landing of the main body of the unit. In February 1955, SAC conducted a small exercise requiring the men at Adana to refuel B-47s and KC-97s. Shortly after this exercise, the remainder of the 7216th arrived on C-119s from Wheelus.

In mid-1954, when the airfield was nearing completion, USAF planners began to explore other uses for the base in addition to the original wartime mission of bomber support. They added the following missions: peacetime support of all USAF activities in southern Turkey, tactical aircraft operations, and accommodating airlift missions destined for the Middle East. The base also supported several unique assignments.

In the summer of 1958, the 7216 ABS met its first test when a crisis in Lebanon focused world attention on the Middle East. During the height of activities, 147 aircraft and crews sat on Incirlik's tarmac. The majority were C-124s and C-130s involved movement and logistics support of an Army battalion into Lebanon. Four F-100s flew nonstop from the United States to Incirlik and were combat ready minutes after arrival. After the Lebanon Crisis, TAC deployed F-100 fighter squadrons on 100-day rotations to Incirlik from the US.

U-2 Complex
U-2 operations complex near completion

As balloon missions terminated, the base commander received notification that another tenant unit, Detachment 10-10 under the Turkey Cover Plan, would soon arrive. The new operation, Project TL-10, prompted another flurry of construction. However, the extremely sensitive nature of the mission dictated the construction of a secure compound within the base, which did not yet have a perimeter fence. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had recently authorized Operation OVERFLIGHT -- covert reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union. The Soviets had flatly rejected his Open Skies plan, which would have allowed aircraft from both countries to openly overfly each other's territory. Very few people at Adana knew the true mission of Project TL-10.

Members of the unit, innocuously designated 2nd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (Provisional), began to arrive in August 1956. The Air Force provided the squadron commander and logistical support, while the Central Intelligence Agency provided the operations officer, pilots, and mission planners. The unit's mission, contrary to its name, had nothing to do with weather. It flew U-2 aircraft at extremely high altitudes to gather photographic imagery and electronic signals for intelligence purposes. The main target of these flights was the Soviet Union.

The American intelligence community would come to rely on this information to assess Soviet technological advances. However, the Soviet Union was not the sole objective of the operation. For instance, in September 1956, Francis Gary Powers flew over the eastern Mediterranean to determine the position of British and French warships poised to assist Israel's invasion of Egypt after Egyptian forces seized the Suez Canal. Other flights followed to gather data on military activity during crises involving Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Yemen.

By late 1957, Adana AB had become the main U-2 operating location, having absorbed the resources of a unit in Germany. One of the tasks the unit performed involved flying over missile sites in the Soviet Union from forward operating locations at Lahore and Peshawar in Pakistan. For every mission that penetrated Soviet airspace, there was at least one surveillance flight along the border to divert Soviet air defense attention from the intruder. These diversionary flights typically departed Adana AB traveling over Van (in eastern Turkey), Iran, and the southern Caspian Sea to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; they returned along a similar route. These periphery missions usually collected communications and electronic signals instead of photographic imagery.

The U-2 operation continued at the base (renamed Incirlik AB on 28 February 1958) for several years in the utmost secrecy, until 1 May 1960. On that morning Gary Powers, then a veteran of 27 missions, took off from Peshawar destined for Bdo, Norway. He was to overfly and photograph two major intercontinental ballistic missile test sites in the Soviet Union en route, one at Sverdlovsk, the other at Plesetsk. Heavy antiaircraft missile concentrations guarded both sites.

Powers took off on time, as did the diversionary flight from Incirlik, and the mission continued as planned until he reached Sverdlovsk. While on the photo run at 67,000 feet, the Soviets launched a volley of 14 SA-2 surface-to-air missiles at Powers' aircraft. Although the SA-2s could not achieve the same altitude as the U-2, the aircraft disintegrated in the shock waves caused by the exploding missiles. Soviet authorities subsequently arrested Powers after he successfully ejected from the plane, and held him on espionage charges for nearly 2 years. The Turkish, Pakistani, and Norwegian governments claimed to have no knowledge of the American U-2 overflights, and shortly afterwards all U-2s and support personnel quietly returned to the United States.

For a brief period, from May 1964 through August 1965, F-105s deployed instead, but the F-100 rotations continued until 1970. In 1966, the responsibility for sending rotational fighter squadrons changed from stateside fighter wings to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing at Torrejon AB, Spain. TAC transferred the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) to USAFE in April 1966, and with that the responsibility to deploy fighter squadrons to Incirlik became USAFE's. The 401 TFW and its F-100s had recently moved from England AFB, Louisiana, to Torrejon AB, Spain, and also assumed alert duty at Aviano AB, Italy. These rotational squadrons supported NATO plans and forces.

The 401st's arrival in Europe was part of an effort to bring units with combat history into the theater. As part of that same effort, USAFE inactivated the 7216th (by now an Air Base Group) and activated the 39th Tactical Group at Incirlik in its place on 1 April 1966. The 39th continued as Det 10, TUSLOG, under the Turkey Cover Plan.

The 7216 ABS at Incirlik changed its name in 1966 to the 39th Tactical Group. However, because of agreements with the Government of Turkey, the unit didn't use the new designation openly until 1983. The newly reorganized group went through another test when an earthquake devasted large mountainous regions of Eastern Turkey. Within 24 hours, the 39 TACG and the Incirlik hospital combined resources to send a completely air-transportable field hospital, equipped with portable X-ray units, surgical and laboratory facilities, to the stricken area. US and Turkish officials praised the humanitarian work of Incirlik units. Early in its operational history, Incirlik became a support base for training fighter aircrews on a rotational basis.

The last F-100s departed Incirlik in January 1970 when F-4s from units in Germany relieved them for approximately 6 months. During the break, the 401st converted to F-4s, then resumed rotations in July. The flying mission at Incirlik further diversified in 1970 as a result of a coup in Libya the previous year that brought Muammar Qaddafi to power. After successfully overthrowing the King of Libya, the Revolutionary Command Council asked the US to remove its forces.

Loss of a training range in Libya seriously impaired USAFE's ability to train its aircrews in weapons delivery tactics. As a result, the command negotiated with several NATO nations to open new ranges or to expand existing ones. The Turkish Air Force agreed to allow USAFE to improve facilities at its air-to-ground range at Konya, providing a suitable training area for the squadrons deployed to Incirlik. These units also conducted training at Incirlik's offshore air-to-air range.

The Konya air-to-ground range, located 150 miles northwest of Incirlik, allowed deployed crews to practice a variety of weapons delivery techniques, chemical warfare defense, and specialized low-level navigation. Conversely, Incirlik's air-to-air range, 30 miles south of the base in the northeastern Mediterranean, provided weapons training detachments (WTD) the ability to fly at supersonic speeds while practicing basic fighter maneuvers, air combat tactics, and intercept missions. Throughout the 1970s (except during the Cyprus Crisis) and 1980s, many types of aircraft, including F-4s, F-111s, F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s deployed to Incirlik to take advantage of this unique training opportunity, sometimes combining the use of both ranges during particular missions.

The 1970s were a turbulent time for Incirlik. On 20 July 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus after a Greek coup overthrew the island's president. After a month-long campaign that captured 40 percent of the island, Turkey announced a cease-fire. In 1975, just as the base was beginning to see new building projects and expanding activities on base, the conflict in Cyprus brought construction to a halt. In mid-1975, the Turkish government announced that all US bases would close and transfer control to the Turkish military. This action was in response to an arms embargo Congress imposed on Turkey for using US-supplied equipment during the invasion. What particularly irked Congress was that Turkey flew US-made fighters from Incirlik during the operation. Only Incirlik AB and Izmir AS remained open due to their NATO missions, but all other non-NATO activities at these locations ceased.

Congress lifted the embargo in September 1978 and restored military assistance to Turkey. Consequently, Turkey lifted restrictions on activities at Incirlik and Izmir, and allowed the resumption of US military operations at Sinop, Kargarburun, Belbasi, and Pirinclik.

In 1979, the base's name became Incirlik Installation in accordance with the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement between the US and Turkey.

Operations returned to normal after the US and Turkey signed a Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA) on 29 March 1980. After signing the DECA, USAFE initiated the Turkey Catch-up plan to improve quality of life conditions. One of the major projects was the completion of a new base housing complex, although other facilities also received refurbishment.

Since 1981, construction continued as the base upgraded or replaced old facilities. New hardened aircraft shelters, dormitories, commissary, schools, a headquarters building, lodging, and base hospital were some of the larger projects. Throughout the remainder of the decade, the base continued its Cold War mission of hosting rotational squadrons. Incirlik's support activities changed only slightly when the 401st transitioned to the F-16 later.

However, in January 1989 massive political changes in Eastern Europe began that would end 45 years of Soviet domination. One of the most visible signs predicting the end of the Cold War was the German Democratic Republic's opening the Berlin Wall in November. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact brought euphoria to the West, but also forced nations to ponder the future role of NATO. Meanwhile, Iraqi aggression in Kuwait brought increased activity to Incirlik once again. Instead of focusing on a possible confrontation in Europe, the base turned its attention to events in Southwest Asia.

With the invasion of Kuwait by neighboring Iraq in August 1990, Incirlik's role in the Middle East again took on great significance. As Iraq's occupation of Kuwait continued into 1991, Incirlik welcomed units from around the world; and from every service. Units deployed in direct support of Operation Desert Shield and later, Operation Desert Storm.

Incirlik was USAFE's only strike base for Desert Storm. The idea of launching strikes from Incirlik against Iraq actually came from junior staff officers at Ramstein. As good planners are wont to do they were playing "what if 's" in September of 1990 when one of them came up with the idea of using us as a strike base. This was an obvious political impossibility as it was widely known that the Turks would never allow the launching of strikes against Iraq from their soil. Nevertheless the planners sketched out a basic plan which involved using only USAFE assets. As part of this process the base Ops people were asked for inputs. Specifically they were asked what the absolute maximum number of aircraft was which could be handled on the base. After careful consideration and a lot of scrutiny, it was estimated that the maximum number would be about 95 fighters.

Of course this was pie-in-the-sky because it was thought that the Turks would never approve of Incirlik being a strike base. This was the conventional wisdom throughout USAFE during the build up prior to the war. Up through the start of the war Headquarters EUCOM gave Incirlik less than a one percent chance of being a strike base.

The operation sent Incirlik into high gear with F-111s, F-16s, F-15s, tanker aircraft, and many others units taking the base from its peacetime posture to the pinnacle of preparedness for war. The Gulf War began Jan. 16, 1991, with thousands of sorties flown against Iraq and occupied Kuwait out of bases controlled by US Central Command and its coalition partners. Aircraft deployed here, under the European Command began flying missions into Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991. It was months before military members saw a return to somewhat normal operations. In all, Incirlik launched exactly 100 strike packages or gorillas; flew over 4,600 combat sorties, totalling 14,000 combat hours; dropped over 3,000 tons of ordnance on enemy targets; and pumped nearly 30 million pounds of fuel. Incirlik F15's shot down four Iraqi fighters in air to air engagements. Incirlik sustained not a single combat loss. Incirlik did lose one F-lfi during the war but it went down enroute to the target while it was still in Turkey. Incirlik accounted for nearly five percent of the combat missions in Operation Desert Storm.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:50:46 ZULU