In connection with the acceleration of tests of a jet UAV Baykar Bayraktar Kızılelma in the media, the versatile landing ship of the Turkish Navy TCG Anadolu, which is supposed to be the platform for these drones, is increasingly mentioned in the media. Let’s take a closer look at this ship, which will be the world’s first UAV carrier and should test the pros and cons of this concept.
TCG Anadolu is a hybrid warship that can act as a universal amphibious assault ship and as a light aircraft carrier designed for the use of UAVs or STOVL aircraft with a short takeoff and vertical landing. At the time of acceptance into the fleet, TCG Anadolu should become the largest ship and flagship of the Turkish Navy.
TCG Anadolu was laid down at the Sedef Shipbuilding shipyard in Istanbul on April 30, 2016, but the design and technologies used in the construction of the ship were created by Navantia in Spain, which provided them to the Turkish side.
TCG Anadolu has three sister ships. This is the main ship of the series – the Spanish universal amphibious ship Juan Carlos I (as part of the Spanish fleet since September 2010) and the Australian helicopter carriers Canberra (2014) and Adelaide (2015).
Originally, in 2013, it was planned that the TCG Anadolu would be slightly shorter than the Juan Carlos I, would not have a runway for fighter jets and would only carry helicopters, like Canberra and Adelaide. The contract between Sedef Shipbuilding and Navantia was signed on May 7, 2015. The cost of building and equipping the ship in 2015 was estimated at $1 billion.
At this stage, the Turkish Navy decided that they need not just a helicopter carrier, but a universal ship in the configuration of a light aircraft carrier, from which F-35B STOVL fighters will take off. Turkey’s Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is one of two foreign companies that are suppliers to Lockheed Martin in the F-35 program, so it was assumed that the fighters would be assembled in Turkey. It was about 120 planes.
Unfortunately, in 2016, the Turkish government decided to purchase Russian long-range S-400 “Triumph” air defense systems, so in 2018 the US excluded the country from the F-35 program, although TAI was given the opportunity to finish the contract for the supply of fighter components.
The consequence of this decision was the transformation of TCG Anadolu into a UAV carrier. Bayraktar TB3 and Bayraktar Kızılelma UAVs will be the main machines to make up the aircraft wing of the ship. But Turkey does not abandon the hope of acquiring STOL fighters in the future, maybe even the same F-35Bs, and use TCG Anadolu in this configuration as well.
The keel of the first Turkish aircraft/UAV carrier was laid on February 7, 2018. The ship was launched on April 30, 2019. TCG Anadolu is currently undergoing sea trials, for example, on November 18, 2022, the first helicopter ship test landings. It is expected that the flagship will join the fleet in 2023.
In the configuration of a universal amphibious ship, which is exactly how the TCG Anadolu will be used until the final formation of the aviation wing, it can carry up to 27 AAV floating armored personnel carriers (used, among others, by the US Marine Corps) and 29 main battle tanks (Leopard 2 or Turkish Altay ) in the hold; 4 amphibious vehicles LCM, or 2 LCVP; and 900 paratroopers. The team of TCG Anadolu itself consists of 261 sailors.
In light aircraft carrier configuration, TCG Anadolu is to carry 10 F-35B fighter jets and 12 medium-weight helicopters. As a helicopter carrier, the ship will receive from 12 to 25 (depending on the configuration of the hangars) medium attack helicopters of the type TAI/AgustaWestland T129 ATAK, multipurpose Eurocopter AS532 Cougar or Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk. Or 8 heavy Boeing CH-47 Chinook.
As an UAV carrier, TCG Anadolu will be able to operate 30-50 Bayraktar TB3 and/or Bayraktar Kızılelma UAVs. But the thing is that the necessary amount of given UAVs will be available only in 2-3 years. Bayraktar Kızılelma is just preparing for first flight, and Bayraktar TB3 should fly only in 2023.
Bayraktar TB3 is a heavy marine version of the Bayraktar TB2 with folding wings. The Bayraktar TB3 should carry up to 280 kg of payload compared to the Bayraktar TB2’s 150 kg. In addition, Bayraktar TB3 is faster than its predecessor with the same endurance.
It is interesting that the re-equipment of TCG Anadolu should take a long time and requires not only the reconfiguration of hangars and holds, replacement of fuel for equipment, weapons in warehouses, and even almost a complete change of the team. Technicians servicing amphibious vehicles and helicopters are unlikely to be able to service fighter jets or UAVs.
Regarding weapons. TCG Anadolu partly uses weapons of partner countries, partly weapons of Turkish production. For example, the ship’s all-weather landing radar is the Italian Leonardo SPN-720, and the combat control system is the Turkish GENESIS-ADVENT. Most of the combat systems are produced by the Turkish companies Aselsan and Havelsan. This is an anti-aircraft complex for RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile missiles to protect against anti-ship missiles, two C-RAM of the Phalanx CIWS artillery system based on M61 Vulcan aviation 20-mm guns, and five combat Aselsan STOPs with Oerlikon KBA 25-mm automatic guns or the M242 Bushmaster.
As we have already noted, TCG Anadolu will be the largest ship of the Turkish Navy and will significantly strengthen them. Currently, the Turkish Navy has 16 frigates, 8 corvettes, 12 submarines, about 30 patrol, and small attack boats, and 34 amphibious ships of various classes, including the world’s largest large amphibious ships for landing tanks – TCG Bayraktar and TCG Sancaktar, which are three times smaller in displacement than TCG Anadolu.
But everything will not end at TCG Anadolu. Turkey plans to launch the second ship of this class – TCG Trakya.
How quickly the TCG Anadolu will transform from a universal amphibious assault ship to a UAV carrier and how viable this concept will be at all depends on Baykar and the speed with which it will complete the trials and start serial production of the Bayraktar TB3 and/or Bayraktar Kızılelma UAVs. Let’s see, Baykar really knows how to surprise.
It is interesting that the first concept of the UAV carrier was proposed in 2007 by the British BAE Systems Maritime – Naval Ships, but UXV Combatant remained only a concept, but Turkey, unexpectedly for itself, can really become the first country that has a new type of ship in its Navy, oriented to modern armed conflicts and built taking into account the experience of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
General specifications of TCG Anadolu
Class and type – universal landing ship, light aircraft carrier, UAV carrier
Displacement – 27,079 tons (landing ship configuration) / 24,660 tons (aircraft carrier configuration)
Length – 232 m
Width – 32 m
Draft – 6.9 m
Propulsion – 5×8,000 kW (11,000 hp) Navantia Man diesel generators, 2×11 MW (15,000 hp) Siemens SiPOD, 2×1,500 kW (2,000 hp) bow thruster
Speed - 21 knots (39 km/h)
Range – 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km) at a speed of 15 knots (28 km/h)
Complement – 4xLCM or 2xLCVP
Sensors – SMART-S Mk.2 S-band 3D radar, SPN-720 Naval Precision Approach Radar, GENESIS-ADVENT Combat Management System and others
Armament – 1xRAM, 2xPhalanx CIWS, 5×25 mm Aselsan STOP RCWS
Aircraft carried – 4xT-129 ATAK, 2xS-70B Seahawk, 8xAs532; or 8xCH-47F; or 30-50 Baykar Bayraktar TB3 or Baykar Bayraktar Kızılelma