Türkiye commissions largest warship aka world’s 1st drone carrier
In a historic milestone, Türkiye on Monday commissioned its long-anticipated largest warship, bolstering its naval capabilities and making the country one of the few nations in the world with a domestically built aircraft carrier.
Set to be Türkiye’s flagship, the multipurpose amphibious assault ship TCG Anadolu represents a symbol in the “Century of Türkiye,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, addressing the delivery ceremony in Istanbul.
Being more than Türkiye’s first aircraft carrier, the ship will also be the world’s first vessel with an air wing mainly consisting of unmanned aircraft.
“The TCG Anadolu … is the world’s first warship in its field where UAVs can land and take off,” Erdoğan said, stressing that the vessel would host many of Türkiye’s manned and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Based on Spain’s flagship, the Juan Carlos I, the TCG Anadolu is a landing helicopter dock (LHD) type amphibious assault ship. It is 231 meters long and 32 meters wide and boasts a displacement of 27,436 tons. It has a top speed of around 21 knots, a range of 9,000 nautical miles, and can operate at sea for 50 days.
The ship was ordered in 2015, laid down in February 2018 and launched in April 2019. Its inauguration was scheduled for 2021 but has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“(TCG Anadolu) has the capabilities to conduct military operations in every corner of the world,” Erdoğan said. “We will be able to transfer to crisis areas with this ship quickly.”
Erdoğan said 70% of the parts used in TCG Anadolu’s construction were Türkiye-made, stressing that the government would “bring more advanced technologies that are more domestic and national to our country.”
The president also vowed the profound transformation that Türkiye has undergone in the defense industry in the last two decades through innovative engineering initiatives and domestically developed technologies.
Erdoğan dubbed “historic” the level where Türkiye’s external dependence in the defense sector dropped to 20% as of 2022, from 80% in the early 2000s.
The capabilities of its vehicles triggered unprecedented demand that saw Türkiye’s defense industry exports hit a record of more than $4.4 billion in 2022, Erdoğan said.
In contrast, the figure stood at nearly $250 million 20 years ago.
“The Turkish defense industry has revolutionized in the last 20 years. It has not been easy for our defense industry to become the rising star of Türkiye. We have determined fully independent defense industry our target,” Erdoğan said.
The TCG Anadolu was initially intended to operate like similar amphibious assault ships and carry a fleet of helicopters and short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighters, such as Lockheed Martin’s F-35B variant of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft.
Yet, any such prospect diminished after the U.S. removed Türkiye from the multinational program developing the F-35 fighter jets over Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian-made S-400 air missile defense systems in 2019.
By that year, Türkiye had contributed $1.4 billion to the program and had planned to purchase some 100 F-35 jets in the long term.
This prompted Türkiye to reconsider the development plans and make additional adjustments to transform TCG Anadolu into a carrier of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and uncrewed fighter jets, in addition to helicopters.
The ship’s air wing is expected to consist mostly of Bayraktar TB3s, a short-runway-capable version of the renowned Bayraktar TB2. Both platforms have been developed by the Turkish drone magnate Baykar.
The TB3 will be displayed and make its first public appearance on the sidelines of this year’s edition of Türkiye’s largest aviation, space and technology festival Teknofest, scheduled to begin in late April.
The aircraft that will be the first of its kind boasting the ability to fold its wings is expected to finish its testing phase by the end of 2023, according to the company’s officials.
The platform will have long-range communication capabilities, allowing it to be remotely controlled from great distances. This will enable it to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence gathering, and attacks against overseas targets.
Another of Baykar’s landmark platforms, the unmanned fighter jet Kızılelma will also be capable of taking off from and landing on TCG Anadolu.
Kızılelma completed its maiden flight in December. It represents a significant expansion of capabilities for slow-moving reconnaissance and missile-carrying drones. It promises to increase the top speed and carrying capacity of the existing unmanned aircraft in Türkiye.
Powered by a jet engine, it shows similar exterior features to fifth-generation fighter jets. Baykar says in addition to conventional drone missions, Kızılelma will be able to conduct air-to-air engagements.
The autonomously maneuvering platform will be capable of operating in tandem with piloted aircraft and may carry air-to-air missiles, according to the company.
In addition to drones, TCG Anadolu will house helicopters, including the domestically produced T129 Atak, the AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and SH-70B utility helicopters.
Meanwhile, TCG Anadolu will be able to host a battalion-sized force along with flight and command personnel. Although its flight deck is not long enough for classic warplanes to land and take off, the Anadolu has six spots where medium-load transport, assault, or general-purpose helicopters can land and take off, along with two other spots that provide a landing platform for heavy cargo transport helicopters.
It can carry many light and heavy armored vehicles, including wheeled and tracked ones. It can carry up to 30 wheeled vehicles on its lightweight deck, including armored amphibious vehicles and armored personnel carriers. The vessel’s hangar enables at least 12 medium-load helicopters to be transported.
At the same time, the number can be increased with additional helicopters carried on the light vehicle deck, depending on the vessels’ mission. The heavy vehicle deck at the top of the carrier’s pool provides the transportation of heavy and tracked vehicles, such as tanks, along with other heavy armored vehicles.
The Anadolu provides the transportation of up to nearly 45 tanks, again, depending on how the vehicles are positioned on it and the vessel’s mission-ranking from amphibious war to power transfer, along with the non-military tasks such as humanitarian aid, search and rescue, medical assistance or natural disaster support in a variety of areas.