Turkey wants to be the first country in the world to equip an aircraft carrier with armed drones
To become a military sea power, a fleet is not enough; typically, for this an aircraft carrier is a must. According to this definition, Russia has now lost the status after the “Admiral Kuznetsov”, which belongs to the Northern Fleet, fell into disrepair in the dock in Murmansk. It is the only aircraft carrier in the Russian navy.
In the Black Sea, Turkey can therefore soon feel like the only naval power, as the country will soon commission the “TCG Anadolu”. The aircraft carrier, which has been under construction since 2018, was handed over to the military in the summer and subsequently completed the necessary tests and sea trials in the Sea of Marmara. Now the ship is undergoing acceptance trials. It will then become the flagship and command ship of the Turkish Navy. In the Mediterranean, too, Turkey will thus become a naval power, a title it shares with France, Italy and Spain.
The “Anadolu”, built under licence in a Turkish shipyard, is a copy of the Spanish “Juan Carlos”, a lightweight helicopter carrier with amphibious properties for shipping even in shallow water. It is 232 metres long and displaces about 27 000 tonnes, its maximum speed is 38 kilometres per hour, and its maximum operational time at sea is 50 days. According to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, the “Anadolu” can transport 94 vehicles with a crew of 700 soldiers. Also on board is a hospital with 30 beds. The range is given by the ministry as almost 17,000 kilometres.
Originally, the Turkish Ministry of Defence wanted to equip the “Anadolu” with US fighter jets of the type “F35”. However, the government was excluded from the US-European programme four years ago after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the purchase of the “S-400” surface-to-air missile system from Russia. As an alternative, the Ministry of Defence initially considered replacing it with the “TAI Hürjet” fighter aircraft, which the Turkish Air Force is currently developing. However, fully fueled and loaded with weapons, the aircraft would be too heavy for the short runway of the “Anadolu”.
In recent years, Turkey – alongside the USA, Israel, China and now Iran – has become a significant drone power. According to its own information, the government has issued export licences to more than two dozen countries for the “Bayraktar TB2” drone alone. The manufacturer is the company Baykar Makina, whose CEO married into Erdoğan’s family.
Against this background, it is obvious that the military now wants to equip the “Anadolu” with up to 80 Baykar drones instead of fighter jets from Nato allies. This would make Turkey the first country to have an aircraft carrier with fixed-wing armed drones. With this move, the Turkish government and the country’s defence companies could even capitalise on the expulsion from the “F35” programme. For Baykar Makina, this should mean a further boost for drone exports.
However, due to lack of space on the deck of the aircraft carrier, the fixed-wing drone has to be modified. Baykar has developed the “TB3” version with longer but foldable wings. This allows the drone to be parked below deck to save space. Individual components and connections must also have greater strength to absorb the increased thrust of the short runway. In addition, the “TB3” should have almost twice the payload of the “TB2”. Soon, its maiden flight is expected to take place and series production will begin.
To be equipped with drones, the “Anadolu” will be fitted with a roller system on its nose for the launch of the “TB3”. Control over long distances will be carried out with the help of satellite terminals. According to the chairman of the Turkish Defence Industry, it should be possible to guide up to ten drones simultaneously in the mission from a command centre located on board.
Until it is finally equipped with Baykar drones, the “Anadolu” will provisionally take up to 24 attack and supply helicopters on board. The navy is said to have already conducted initial exercises with the manned rotary-wing aircraft on the deck of the Anadolu.
In addition to helicopters and drones, the Turkish Navy also plans to station the “Kızılelma” on the aircraft carrier at a later date. This is an unmanned, jet-powered combat aircraft with a take-off weight of over five tonnes, including 1.5 tonnes of payload. However, the “Kızılelma” is still under development, only one prototype is said to have already completed two successful flights, reaching speeds of up to 800 km/h. Later models are expected to fly at supersonic speeds.
Turkey has already significantly increased its foreign policy influence with its drone exports. On the Azerbaijani side, the “TB2” is said to have contributed to the success in the war of aggression against Armenia, and after missions in the Ukraine war, NATO partners Poland and Romania have also ordered the drone. However, many exports are also made to African countries.
According to Defence Minister Hulusi, Turkey wants to expand this sphere of influence with the “Anadolu”. The country is active on three continents and “interested in the whole world”. With the aircraft carrier, “missions in all seas” can now be carried out. The new capabilities would also strengthen Nato. “Everyone should know that,” Hulusi announces. With the “TCG Trakya”, the “Anadolu” is also to receive a sister ship in a few years, but the navy has not yet awarded the contract for this.
Criticism of the maritime great power ambitions, however, comes from former Admiral Türker Ertürk. “It is not suitable for us, it will break down anyway,” the high-ranking military recently declared in a television programme about the “Anadolu”. The country is not pursuing overseas and imperial affairs at the moment, he said. Moreover, there are technical problems with the propulsion system on the Spanish ship, on whose model the ship was built, explained the retired admiral. These would also occur on the “Anadolu”. It is also an amphibious assault ship that does not become an aircraft carrier simply by being equipped with fixed-wing aircraft. At around €650 million, the ship is also far too cheap compared to the naval power ships of the USA, Ertürk criticizes.
Published in German in „nd“.
The “TCG Anadolu” (Turkish Ministry of Defence).