Erdoğan son-in-law wants to equip world’s first drone carrier

After Turkey’s exclusion from the F35 programme, the fighter jets on the aircraft carrier „Anadolu“ could be replaced by armed drones.

Turkey could be the first country in the world to have an aircraft carrier with combat drones. The ship in question is the „TCG Anadolu“, which is to be launched next year. Ideas for this have been around for a while. Now Selçuk Bayraktar, founder of the drone company Baykar Defence and later son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has given details for the first time in an online event of the Aerospace Summit of Turkey’s Gebze University. According to this, the ship could be equipped with a successor version of the well-known drone „Bayraktar TB2“.

The „Anadolu“ is a copy of the Spanish „Juan Carlos“, which with a length of 232 metres and a displacement of around 27,000 tonnes is one of the lightweight aircraft carriers. The contract for the construction was awarded to a consortium of the manufacturer Navantia and the Turkish company Sedef, in whose shipyard the ship is currently being built under licence. Turkey thus becomes the fourth maritime power in the Mediterranean with an aircraft carrier after France, Italy and Spain.

Originally, helicopters and US fighter jets of the type F35 were to be stationed on the deck of the „Anadolu“. After the government in Ankara was excluded from the F35 programme two years ago, this also called into question the equipping of the „Anadolu“. Among the plans was to replace the US aircraft with the light fighter jet „TAI Hürjet“, which the Turkish Air Force is currently developing. However, a jet fully fuelled and equipped with weapons would presumably be too heavy for take-offs from the comparatively small aircraft carrier.

The „Juan Carlos“ in Istanbul (Image: McNamara, CC BY-SA 3.0).

To enable the „TB2“ to be used on the „Anadolu“, it is being modified as „TB3“. In order to take up less space in the hangar, they are to be given folding wings. In this way, there could be room for up to 50 drones. In order for the aircraft with a 100 horsepower machine to make it into the air at all, it will be supported by a winch. Bayraktar has now shown what the system could look like in a graphic for the first time. According to this, the „Anadolu“ has a shaft that runs centrally to the runway. A cable is laid there, which is guided over a pulley at the ship’s bow.

Individual components and connections of the aircraft would also have to have higher strength to absorb the increased thrust of a short runway. It would also be conceivable to launch the TB3 with a catapult system. However, this would exert even stronger forces on the drone and also consume precious space on the small ship. Moreover, such a system has not yet been developed.

There is no official confirmation yet that the „Anadolu“ will be the world’s first drone carrier. However, the plans are concrete. Two months ago, the chairman of the Turkish defence industry, among others, talked about the capabilities in an interview. According to this, up to ten drones could be operated simultaneously from a command centre on board.

The „Bayraktar“ drones could become Turkey’s export hit after being used in various wars; current buyers include Qatar and Ukraine, with further interest coming from Serbia. First they flew attacks on villages and alleged guerrilla positions in the Turkish part of Kurdistan, followed by armed combat in Syria and in the civil war in Libya.

However, Turkey could finally assert itself as a new drone power with the deployment of the „TB2“ on the side of the Azerbaijani army in the battle for Nagorno-Karabakh. There, together with other unmanned systems, they are said to have been decisive in the war. The government in Ankara thus also established itself as the new regional power in the Caucasus.

At a victory parade in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku in December, Turkish troops had brought several „TB2“ and presented them to the population on trucks. In his speech, President Erdoğan threatened that „the struggle carried out in the political and military areas will continue from now on many other fronts“.

With a drone-equipped „Anadolu“, this could now also take place at sea. It is to become the flagship and command ship of the Turkish Navy.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.