The TCG Anadolu light carrier in port. Photo: Turkish Defense Ministry

Turkey’s first light aircraft carrier is undertaking a series of sea trials, significantly at a time of rising strategic uncertainty with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The TCG Anadolu, built by Turkey’s Sedef Shipyard in collaboration with Spain’s Navantia and first launched last month, can be configured as a mini-aircraft carrier and can possibly be deployed in the Aegean, Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, as well as the Indian and Atlantic oceans. 

The TCG Anadolu is based on Spain’s SPS Juan Carlos I, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship and aircraft carrier in the Spanish navy. It combines the features of an aircraft carrier and a landing ship, which designates it as a landing ship with a helicopter dock (LHD). 

It is envisioned to be the flagship of Turkey’s navy, measuring 232 meters long and 32 meters wide. The ship is also equipped with a 1,400 square meter well deck, which can be flooded to accommodate amphibious landing craft. 

All the ship’s systems were procured by Aselan and Haveslan. The TCG Anadolu features the Turkish-made GENESIS-ADVENT combat management system, and aircraft landings are assisted by Italian Leonardo SPN-720 Precision Approach Radar.

Mounted weapons include the Phalanx 20mm close in weapon systems (CIWS), Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), Aselsan 25mm STOP remote weapon stations and an Aselan Hizir torpedo countermeasures system.

The ship was originally envisioned to operate the short take-off and vertical landing version of the F-35. However, as Turkey was removed from the F-35 program in 2019 due to its purchase of the Russian S-400 surface to air missile system, it now plans to operate its indigenous Hürjet light trainer-attack aircraft from the TCG Anadolu.

Turkey’s advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft the Hürjet at a show in Istanbul in 2018. Photo: WikiCommons

The Hürjet is a single-engine, tandem-seat aircraft with modern avionics that can be configured for training and light attack roles. However, several modifications must be made to both the Hürjet and TCG Anadolu‘s designs to make them suitable for light carrier operations.

Some of these modifications include strengthening the Hürjet’s airframe to withstand the stress of carrier landings. 

Also, as the TCG Anadolu was initially designed to accommodate short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, a catapult system may be required to launch the Hürjet, alongside a hook system to catch landing aircraft.

However, it is unclear how the aircraft will stop if it misses the hook system, as the TCG Anadolu’s flight deck is too short to allow the Hürjet to take off again. 

The ship is also expected to carry helicopters such as the locally-built T129 ATAK gunship, S-70 Seahawk anti-submarine helicopter and heavy-lift helicopters. The TCG Anadolu can carry 14 units, however this number may change depending on mission requirements. 

The ship is also envisioned to carry a naval version of the Bayraktar combat drone with a local engine developed by TUSAS Engine Industries. The Bayraktar TB-3, which is still under development, is designed to take off from and land on LHD-type ships using a simple roller system and rescue nets.

The drone is projected to have a take-off weight of 1,450 kilograms, 24-hour flight endurance and foldable wings for storage aboard ship. The TCG Anadolu is planned to have a capacity of 30 to 50 drones. 

A sister ship to the TCG Anadolu, to be named the TCG Trakiya, is also planned. 

The Bayraktar combat drone. Photo: WikiCommons

Turkey’s light aircraft carrier program is emblematic of its comprehensive naval modernization program. Other big-ticket items Turkey plans to acquire include MILGEM frigates to replace the Turkish navy’s aging Oliver Hazard class frigates, TF-2000 Air Defense Destroyers and Reis-class air-independent propulsion submarines. 

As aircraft carriers are very potent naval assets in terms of their operational flexibility, the TCG Anadolu provides Turkey with a potent force projection and naval diplomacy asset within the Black Sea region and the Mediterranean Sea.

As the TCG Anadolu is intended for a flagship role, it also shows Turkey’s ambitions to raise its profile as a key player in multinational missions such as the CTF-151 in Africa, Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2), UNIFIL in the Mediterranean and other international naval exercises. 

These developments are in line with Turkey’s Blue Homeland doctrine, which reflects Turkey’s strategic, economic and geopolitical interests in a maritime context.

In this doctrine, Turkey aims to assert its territorial claims against Greece, secure significant energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean and position Turkey as a key maritime player and as a hub between Europe, Asia and Africa. 

This also reflects Turkey’s ambition to become a regional power in the Mediterranean, capable of defending its own interests independently, and projecting itself as an emerging maritime power.