By René Tebel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pursuing an ambitious goal. In order to fulfill the fantasies of the great Turkish powers, Turkey is not only developing an arsenal of international fame, but also wishes to join the circle of the preeminent military powers of the world in the coming years. The construction of a light aircraft carrier as a supraregional operational platform serves this purpose.
In the near future, Turkey will see its warships, painted in light gray camouflage and emblazoned with the red flag with a white crescent moon and star, sweeping across the Aegean Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Its navy, however, can also function in parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The idea of the “blue homeland” and the vision of transforming the Turkish coastal navy into a powerful high seas fleet serve as the motivation to do so.
At the heart of this plan is the construction of the Helicopter Landing Dock (LHD) TCG Anadolu (Pennant number L 400), on which the Sedef Istanbul Tuzla shipyard is currently working. With a length of almost 231 meters, a height of 58 meters and a shift between 24,660 and 27,436 tonnes, the TCG Anadolu will be the largest warship ever built in Turkey.
Even if the real Turkish contribution is 68%, the ship’s design represents an adapted replica of the Spanish Juan Carlos I class, an export success also used by the Australian Navy for its two helicopter carriers, the HMAS Canberra (L 02) and the HMAS Adelaide (L 01).
Originally designed as a helicopter carrier, Turkey changed the order in 2015 to an aircraft carrier with a ski jump, a design familiar from Chinese, Russian, Indian and British aircraft carriers. The aircraft initially envisioned were up to 12 hypermodern American F-35B Lightning IIs with vertical takeoffs. However, the United States removed NATO partner Turkey from both the client list and the list of participants in the Joint Strike Fighter program after Ankara acquired the air defense system. Russian S400.
With the consequence that no suitable fighter jets will be available for the foreseeable future, Turkey appeared to be heading for embarrassment. But nationally developed military drone technology showed a way out: in just one week in March 2020, Turkey was able to inflict massive losses on the Syrian army using drones and new military tactics. In Libya, too, the new Turkish military doctrine led to a standoff against the rival government of General Haftar in Tobruk, and in the battle for Nagorno-Karabakh it was not the least of the Turkish drones that led Azerbaijan to victory against Armenia.
Making a virtue of necessity, the TCG Anadolu, currently under construction, is now converted in the world’s first carrier drone. Plans call for 30 to 50 drones intended for espionage, surveillance, target identification or armed attacks. Just in March, Haluk Bayraktar announced that Baykar was planning to develop the TB-3, a combat drone intended for dedicated use with the drone carrier, during this year.
However, there are still many technical hurdles to overcome. For example, ski jumping alone has a limiting effect on the weapon load and range of an aircraft that should not be underestimated. Additionally, folded wings, which Turkish drone models do not yet have, may be needed for onboard use, as well as resilient retainers for landing on deck. In addition, maritime drones are exposed to sea air and to severe stresses on the body, wheels and landing gear. In addition to the planned use of drones, the head of the Presidium of the Turkish Defense Industry (SSB), smail Demir, also referred to the the use of helicopters and Hürjet, a single-engine light combat aircraft in development, from the aircraft carrier’s deck.
Ultimately, there is also the question of the purpose of a drone carrier. The ship can embody Turkish self-confidence and prestige, and act as a threat. But on the military level, its success is likely to be limited. The TCG Anadolu can indeed perform the tasks expected of a multipurpose ship in the event of an amphibious assault. To do this, however, escort ships must be available in sufficient numbers to form a carrier strike group.
The Turkish drone concept primarily works against an adversary that lacks a strong and interconnected air presence. Thus, the drone carrier does not replace the capacities lost during the exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 program.
This article was published by Monitor geopolitics.com