Turkish UAV manufacturer successfully flight tested its new Kizilelma jet-propelled UAV in December 2022. This flight test came almost a year earlier than its scheduled 2023 first flight. Production of the new jet UAV is now planned to begin in 2024, and it will operate from the new LHD TCG-Anadolu. This ship has a flight deck large enough for Kizilelma to take off from and land on because of its ski-jump design. Kizilelma can carry 1.5 tons of weapons and travel at speeds of up to 800 kilometers an hour at altitudes of about 12,500 meters (40,000 feet) for up to five hours. The UAV has an AESA radar enabling it to use air-to-air missiles and GPS guided bombs. A satellite link is used to remotely control Kizilelma.
The new Anadolu is an LHD (Landing Helicopter Deck) amphibious ship that has a well deck in the rear of the ship for its 27 AAVs and six amphibious landing craft load troops and equipment and exit for shore. There is an 1,880 square meter vehicle deck behind the well deck that holds the 27 AAVs (amphibious assault vehicles) and other vehicles. There is also a 1,400 square meter reinforced vehicle deck for tanks and armored vehicles or loaded AAVs. Anadolu can carry up to 800 troops if used for amphibious operations or even more civilians if used to assist in a natural disaster. Otherwise Anadolu just has the ship crew of 250 plus up to 200 aircraft crew and maintainers.
Turkey originally planned to operate F-35B fighters from the Anadolu but did not get any because they also bought the Russian S400 air defense system which was against NATO policy, especially when involving the F-35 and its many technical secrets. To replace the F-35Bs Turkey developed the Kizilelma TB3 UAV, a version of their current TB2 UAV (Bayraktar) with folding wings and a new jet engine that makes possible short take-offs and landings. The Kizilelma was designed to land and take off from the LHD and has folding wings so more can be stored below in the hangar deck, which is expanded by taking over space normally used by the amphibious craft and vehicles. The LHD can carry up to 50 Kizilelmas because of their folding wings.
The Anadolu is a 27,000 ton LHD with a top speed of 39 kilometers an hour. Max range is 9,000 kilometers at cruising speed of 30 kilometers an hour. Armament consists of three close-in weapons systems to deal with anti-ship missiles and five remotely controlled autocannon.
Anadolu and Kizilelma are the latest examples of Turkey’s decades-long program to become a major arms developer, manufacturer and exporter. Most of the new weapons don’t get export orders but are used by the Turkish military, and often the Foreign Ministry as well. President Erdogan claimed that a 2022 Turkish ballistic missile test scared Greece and that was intentional. Erdogan once again accused Greece of militarily reinforcing its islands in the Aegean Sea. The test Erdogan referred to was the October test launch of a Tayfun short-range ballistic missile. The missile has an estimated range of 600 kilometers and was launched from a mobile launcher located on a military base in northern Turkey, east of Trabzon. The missile flew west, and struck the sea near the Black Sea port of Sinop (near Istanbul). Turkey said the impact point was 561 kilometers from the launcher. The missile is another example of Turkey’s ability to produce sophisticated modern weapons.
These new weapons have not made the Turkish military more powerful, at least not as much as expected. President Erdogan is responsible for this problem. For example, he declared an attempted military coup in 2015 justified a purge of the military and civil service. Anyone with questionable loyalty to Erdogan and his Islamic government was dismissed. The purge was so extensive that the military and many government operations became less effective and more corrupt. The corruption was tolerated when it resulted in major financial benefits for major Erdogan supporters and members of Erdogan’s extended family.
One of the most blatant and costliest examples of this corruption was the military being forced to buy the locally developed and manufactured Altay tank. Turkish manufacturer BMC began this effort in 2008 and it was initially a struggle because the proposed Altay tank was more expensive and less capable than the American M1 and German Leopard that Turkey had access to. Major customers for the M1 are allowed to assemble it locally. Egypt does this and Poland, the latest customer for M1s, is doing the same. Turkey could have saved a lot of time and money by assembling M1s locally and using what was learned from that to develop a Turkish tank that was cheaper and more capable than the Altay. But local assembly operations provide less immediate and far fewer opportunities for corruption, especially for Erdogan’s political party and close associates. The Altay project did that because a distant relative of Erdogan was a major investor in BMC and benefited from any government business BMC received. Turkish journalists were discouraged from covering this but well-informed foreign journalists were not.
Meanwhile, BMC had to shop around for counties able to supply them with key Altay components that most Western nations refused to supply because of Turkish and Turkish-hired mercenary battlefield abuses of Arabs in Syria and Libya, and of Kurds everywhere. In 2021 BMC was able to obtain needed Altay components from two South Korean firms who agreed to build engine and transmission systems for Altay. The Turks are still looking for someone to supply composite armor equal to the French design. If not, they can use less capable designs that are adequate. Turkey already paid South Korea nearly half a billion dollars for use of South Korean tank tech developed for South Korea K1 and K2 tanks. Both of these were based on the U.S. M1 and some licensed U.S. tech was used, but the South Koreans gradually developed their own engines and other components. These are free to export.
Turkey has been a major customer for licensed South Korean military tech. All of this greatly increased the Altay budget, providing ample opportunities to reward pro-Erdogan politicians and Erdogan himself. This scandal is one reason why Erdogan is losing so much voter support in Turkey. This threatens Erdogan and his party. Erdogan is very worried about the corruption accusations and Turkey’s shaky economy. National elections are scheduled for June 2023. He is seeking reelection and insists this will be his last term as president. Israel can help the Turkish economy and sees maintaining close ties with Greece and Turkey as an asset and opportunity to reduce the tensions between these two NATO members. If Erdogan is out of office, government spending policies will change and that is not good news for Altay.