Converting LHD Anadolu To A Drone Carrier

Prologue: This article was first published in Defence Turkey Magazine Issue 106.

It is not a secret that Turkey intends to operate an aircraft carrier. This desire was made public by President Erdoğan during his speech at the launching ceremony of the frigate TCG Istanbul.

The interest of Turkey to operate airplanes from a large ship with a big flight deck is not new. This is a lesson learned from the big humanitarian assistance operation in Libya. Between 19 February and 4 March 2011, Turkey evacuated 23.127 persons from Libya fleeing from the fighting in the country. 8.351 evacuees were transported by sea. The need for a large amphibious ship with a large flight deck and a dock becomes very apparent during this Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation. During the evacuation, a few times, F-16 fighter planes of the Turkish Air Force had to be flown from Turkey to Libya to provide airpower, an operation requiring multiple in-flight refuelling. Despite all the hardship and the cost of flying land-based F-16 fighters from Turkey to Libya their time on target was not adequate and they were not available on short notice. These operations showed the niceties of having an organic air force for the Turkish Navy.

In 2015 the Turkish defence procurement agency Savunma Sanayi Başkanlığı announced that Spanish Navantia’s solution for a large amphibious assault ship was chosen after a long tendering process. The ship is based on Navatia’s Juan Carlos LHD design and is very similar to SPS Juan Carlos 1 in Spanish and, HMAS Canberra, HMAS Adelaide in RAN service. The construction of the ship named Anadolu started in 2016. When finished Anadolu will be the largest ship in Turkish Navy inventory and the first Turkish naval platform where multiple helicopters can launch and land at once and fixed-winged air vehicles can operate. Anadolu will provide a unique experience and platform for the Turkish Armed Forces.

The ousting of Turkey from the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter Program has forced Turkey to change its plans. Turkey was a member of the F-35II Lightning fighter plane program for the start and wished to buy around 100 land-based F-35A versions for the Turkish Air Force. Later it was decided to buy a modest number of vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) variant F-35B to be used onboard Anadolu. 6 to 8 planes deployed on board would provide air cover and perform strike missions during amphibious operations. Since the ship was designed to accommodate and operate Harrier in Spanish service it would be F-35 compatible with little changes. However, the ousting of Turkey from the F-35 Lighting II program made all these plans redundant. Necessity is the mother of invention. Thus, alternatives for F-35B are under consideration. There are two realistic options available for the Turkish Government and the Navy. The first is to convert the Anadolu, to accommodate unmanned combat aerial vehicles.

In March 2021 the president of the Savunma Sanayi Başkanlığı, Prof. İsmail Demir told that work was done to deploy unmanned combat aerial vehicles from Anadolu. Both the Sedef shipyard where the ship is constructed and Baykar Makina, one of the leading drone manufacturers, are conducting studies for this end. Selcuk Bayraktar, the CTO of Baykar Makina has announced that they are working on a new unmanned combat aerial vehicle TB-3 which will be able to be operated from Anadolu. The TB-3 is expected to start test flights in 12 months. It will have a maximum take-off weight of 1200 kg and will carry heavier ammunition compared to the contemporary UCAV, Bayraktar TB-2. To withstand the rigours of landing on a noticeably short and constantly moving flight deck the TB-3 will have a reinforced airframe and landing gear. TB-3 is believed to have foldable wings to make it easier to move on the flight deck and inside the hangar.

Currently, it is not clear whether Anadolu can accommodate the future UCAV in her current design or changes are needed. If structural changes are needed, these may further postpone the delivery of the ship. And if any changes are needed the redesigning of the hip will be performed by Sedef Shipyard as Navantia who has developed the original ship design has finished its contractual obligations.

While operating UCAV will be easier and probably safer than operating a manned system never the less it will be a novel concept and will be a unique experience with its own challenges. The Bayraktar TB-3 UCAV will enhance the air to ground mission capabilities. However, air defence and air-to-air operations missions will still need land-based manned fighters or ground-to-air weapons and good sensors on escorting ships.

Another option to deploy planes on board Anadolu is to redesign the Hürjet advanced jet trainer and light attack craft for carrier operations. Hürjet is a single-engine, tandem seat aircraft under development by Turkish Aerospace TAI. During the above-mentioned interview, Mr. İsmail Demir mentioned that discussions between SSB and TAI were held on whether Hürjet can be used on Anadolu. He also told that some design changes were carried out, some simulations were made and it has been concluded that the design can be modified to make Hürjet operate from a ship such as Anadolu. Adapting the ship and Hürjet planes for each other will be more challenging than developing new armed drones for shipborne operations. An important factor to be considered is the shape of the flight deck of Anadolu.

The flight deck of Anadolu is in a rectangular shape with a large island structure on the starboard side and a 12 degree Ski jump at the front. There is a large aircraft elevator at the very aft of the flight deck. In its current form, the flight deck resembles the flight decks of old aircraft carriers from 2. World War. The arrangement was acceptable as long as the planes had a low landing speed and were light although it was not without its hazards. However, when the planes got faster due to jet engines and heavier a rectangular flight deck arrangement was not safe or sufficient to sustain operations. Thus in the early 1950’ies, Royal Navy devised the angled flight deck. In this configuration, the flight deck has an angle of 6 degrees. This allowed the landing plane to roll away from the planes on the catapult waiting for launching. Ever since all modern aircraft carriers of all nations -with the exception of carriers specially designed for the Harrier S/VTOL planes- have an angled flight deck.

Anadolu does not have an angled flight deck. Thus, in her current form, she is only suitable for planes that can launch using a ski jump and land vertically or land in a very short distance. If Hürjet planes are to be configured to be used onboard Anadolu these planes need to be resigned radically. This will cost time and money. And the end result may not be satisfactory as it is very risky engineering work. A more realistic approach would be while modifying Hürjet for naval operations to design a new ship with a suitable launch and recover facilities that are suitable for navalised Hürjet. From an engineering point of view, this scenario is far more likely to be successful. But then again it will cost time and money and the planes will not be compatible with Anadolu.

Of course, one can always suggest buying a second-hand ship as an alternative. However, I believe that this road is a dead-end though Turkey has been looking for this option. Even when the construction of Anadolu was progressing, in 2017, Turkey showed interest in the ex-Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean when she was decommissioned from Royal Navy service. The ship was not new and had extensive service in Royal Navy but never less someone thought the purchase of HMS Ocean would have increased the strength of the amphibious capabilities Turkish Navy and added new capabilities.

Head of Bahçeşehir University, Maritime and Global Strategies Center, Retired admiral Cihat Yaycı, told in March 2021 that the Turkish Navy should convert the decommissioned aircraft carrier ex Foch, ex São Paulo back to active service. The ship was bought by a Turkish scrapyard in March 2021 and will be towed from Brazil to Turkey. The ship started her life as French aircraft carrier Foch in 1963 and served in French Naval Forces until 2000. After years of arduous service under the French flag, she was sold to the Brazilian Naval Forces and renamed as NAe São Paulo. This old lady served 20 years in Brazil. After a major fire killing 3 crew members, the ship was extensively overhauled between 2005 and 2010. São Paulo was expected to rejoin the fleet in late 2013 but suffered another major fire in 2012. As of September 2016, she continued to undergo repairs, the commander of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Eduardo Leal Ferreira, said plans were in place to renew the carrier’s propulsion system. The ship’s catapult was also reported to have problems.

Mr. Yaycı believes that the Turkish Navy should acquire the ship. After refurbishing her back into working condition, the ship can be used for training and system familiarization purposes.

The old French carrier operates like US Navy carriers catapult to launch airplane and arrester wires to slow landing planes. Neither Turkish Naval Aviation nor Turkish Air Force operates airplanes that are suitable for operations from a carrier and Turkey’s prospects to obtain such planes from abroad seems to be almost nonexistent. The idea of refurbishing this old and worn-out ship back to active service is absurd time consuming and very costly. Time and money are two luxuries Turkey cannot afford to misspend. Warships like any ship is a living system consisting of their crew, her equipment, systems and subsystems on board. Learning of the working of an organism is best done when one observes a living one and to through autopsies. Thus, posting Turkish naval officers as liaisons on board the aircraft carriers of our NATO partners is a better way of learning about the multiple aspects of operations onboard rather than dissecting the cadavers of decommissioned aircraft carriers sent to break yards in Aliağa.

Epilogue: During an interview in December 2021, Mr. İsmail Demir told the reporters that the primary aim was to commission the Anadolu into the Turkish Navy in her original design. When the carrier-borne drone TB-3 is materialised, the adaptation of these unmanned planes into the ship will be revised.

TCG Anadolu Has Been Floated

TCG Anadolu, temporarily in her element. Photo: Ali Özkök

TCG Anadolu has been floated on 4th May 2019. It is important to note that it is a technical procedure and not the official launching of the ship.

TCG Anadolu is being constructed on a floating dock and the keel blocks under her hull need to be relocated. She will be taken back to the dock after the keel blogs have been relocated and the construction will continue.

The ship was floated 4 days after she suffered a fire. The fire broke out as some isolation material caught fire when welding was done nearby. Although there is no visible damage from the outside, the fire must have damaged the parts of the ship. Since the construction of the ship continues the repair of the damaged parts won’t be much difficult.

The First Block Of TCG Anadolu Is Laid

The first block of TCG Anadolu laid on the slipway. Photo: Navantia

The first keel block of TCG Anadolu was laid on 7th February 2018, nine 21 months after the construction has started.

The contract for the construction of the ship was signed in May 2015 after a four year long tender process.

The delivery of the ship is scheduled for the year 2021.

TCG Anadolu is based on Navatia’s Juan Carlos 1 design. She will be very similar to SPS Juan Carlos 1 in Spanish Navy and HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra in Royal Australian Navy.

However, unlike her nears sisters in Spanish and Australian navies, the Turkish ship will only have diesel engines. There will be five MAN 16V32/40 engines each creating 7.680kW and propelling the ship up to 21 knots. The range is estimated to be 9.000 nautical miles.

Armoured Amphibious Attack Vehicles For TCG Anadolu Has Been Ordered

A digital rendering of the future Turkish AAAV by FNNS.

On 7 March 2017, a contract was signed between defence acquisition agency Undersecreteriat For Defence industries (UDI) and FNSS a joint venture between Turkey’s Nurol Holding and BAE Systems, to design and build 27 armoured amphibious attack vehicles.

These AAAV’s will be deployed on board of the future multipurpose amphibious assault ship TCG Anadolu. The break down of the order is 23 amphibious armored assault vehicles, 2 amphibious assault command vehicle and 2 amphibious assault rescue vehicles.

Technical specifications of the AAAV’s has not been disclosed yet. But since BAE Systems, the manufacturer of the AAV7A1 of USMC, is part of FNSS, I would not be surprised if the Turkish AAAV’s have similar performance and appearance as their US cousins.

The Construction Of The Multipurpose Amphibious Assault Ship TCG Anadolu Has Started

L-408 TCG Anadolu.

The model of TCG Anadolu taken during the IDEF 2015 defence exibition.

The construction of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship L-408 TCG Anadolu has started on 30th April 2016.

The ship is based on Navatia’s Juan Carlos 1 design. TCG Anadolu will be similar to SPS Juan Carlos 1 in Spanish Navy and HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra in Royal Australian Navy.

During the ceremony President of Turkish Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech.  During his speech he stated that TCG Anadolu will be the first ship in Turkish Navy from which F-35B SVTOL planes will operate. This is the first time official declaration of the long known desire of Turkey to operate fixed wing planes from her ships. This statement also made it clear that Turkey will procure F-35B planes along with her order of F-35A planes.

In his speech Mr. Erdoğan also asked the announced delivery time of 5,5 years to be shortened to 4 years and stated that if TCG Anadolu can be delivered in 4 years, more ships –though not clearly stating which class- will be ordered.

Unlike her nears sisters in Spanish and Australian navies the Turkish ship will only have diesel engines. There will be five MAN 16V32/40 engines each creating 7.680kW and propelling the ship up to 21 knots. The range is estimated to be 9.000 nautical miles.

The ship will have one Mk-49 launcher for Rolling Airframe Missile, 2 Mk-15 Phalanx Block 1B CIWS, 5 Stabilized Gun platforms probably armed with 25mm gun for self-defence.

The ship will carry 6 F-35B Lightning II planes 4 T-129 ATAK attack helicopters 8 cargo helicopters 2 S-70B Seahawk helicopters and 2 UAVs.

The contract for this project was signed on 7 May 2015 during the IDEF 2015. The delivery scheduled for 2021 but this may be shortened.

When completed she will be the largest warship of Turkish Navy. Being the capital ship she will be the apple of the Turkish Navy. At the same the she will be the most wanted target for other navies. It is about time that other ship building projects especially about ships that will escort and protect TCG Anadolu must start. As an example, the two other navies operating similar ships have initiated AEGIS based air defence destroyers -not to anyones surprise designed in Spain- to escort their amphibious assault ships.

Turkish Navy has long been working on TF-2000 air defence destroyer program. According to preliminary plans the ship will be about 150 meters long and will have displacement between 7.000 and 8.000 tons. Her primary sensor and weapon systems are yet to be determined. Turkish defence electronics company ASELSAN is developing a phased array radar system to be used by the navy.

Large capital ships like TCG Anadolu never sail alone. They are always dispatched with a number of escorts whose main mission is to protect the capital ship no matter what the cost. The ability of current frigates of Turkish Navy which will be tasked with the protection of TCG Anadolu when she is completed may not be sufficient to counter all the treats they will face in the near  future. Therefore more advanced ships with complex sensor systemns and long range missiles are needed. And this need is getting urgent with every passing day.

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Technical specifications of TCG Anadolu.

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