Turkey expects to receive its first LHD (Landing Helicopter Dock) amphibious assault ship in mid-2021. Turkey now has a new, and novel, plan on how use this ship. Construction began in 2016 after Turkey decided, in late 2013 to buy an LHD from Spain. Turkey was following the example of Australia which, in 2007, held an LHD supplier competition and also selected the Spanish Navantia class LHD design. This is a 27,000-ton ship that is very similar to the U.S. San Antonio class LPD. Both LHDs and LPDs look similar. The main difference is that LHDs are designed more to land troops via helicopter while LPDs put more emphasis on using landing craft. Both classes of ship can carry out helicopter and beach landings.
The Turkish LHD, called the Anadolu (Anatolia) is basically the Navantia design with one important difference. The Anadolu can quickly be reconfigured to operate as a troops transport or as an aircraft carrier. The Navantia is 230 meters (713 feet long), has a crew of about 240, and can carry 1,100 troops, 100 vehicles, landing craft, and up to 12 helicopters. Landing craft often include two LCVPs (mainly for carrying about 40 infantry) and four LCMs (can carry 80 infantry or a tank or two smaller vehicles) and several dozen AAVs (amphibious tracked infantry carriers). There is also a 40-bed hospital.
The Navantia has a ski-jump flight deck that will enable it to use vertical takeoff warplanes like the Harrier or F-35B, which can carry more flying off the ski jump deck instead of taking off straight up. Armament usually consists of four 20mm autocannon and four 12.7mm machine-guns. The Anadolu is armed with five 25mm autocannon, two Phalanx 20mm CIWS (close in weapons system) for missile defense and RAM (Rolling Airframe Missiles) for anti-missile and anti-aircraft defense.
In the carrier configuration Turkey planned to use twelve F-35B STOVL (short take off and vertical landing) aircraft and twelve helicopters. The modifications were few and the main one was allowing for the hangar deck (below the 5,440 square meter fight deck) to be quickly expanded from 990 square meters to include the adjacent 1,880 square meter cargo deck. The cargo deck is also adjacent to the flooded dock in the rear of the ship, which hold up to four landing craft to transport troops or vehicles, including up to 29 tanks or a larger number of smaller armored vehicles or trucks.
Merging these two spaces enables the LHD to handle twelve F-35Bs and twelve helicopters. After 2019, when Turkey was removed from the F-35 buyers list for buying a Russian S400 air defense system and other moves deemed harmful to NATO, Turkey had to rethink how to use its LHD. A solution was agreed on in early 2021 and it involved quickly developing and building an improved version of the existing Turkish Bayraktar TB2 for use as a combat UAV on a carrier.
The 650 kg Bayraktar TB2 was introduced in 2014 as an unarmed surveillance UAV. It could be armed and soon was with up to 100 kg of laser guided missiles. TB2 had a max payload of 150 kg which meant vidcams and laser designator could also be carried to find and aim the lightweight laser-guided missiles Turkey was producing. TB2 has a wingspan of 12 meters (39 feet), a top speed of 220 kilometers an hour but cruises at 130. Max ceiling is 8,200 meters (27,000 feet) and endurance is 27 hours. Max control range is 150 kilometers.
Bayraktar TB2 has proved very effective in combat over the last few years. Bayraktar TB2s have been used in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Armenia. The manufacturer was already working on an upgrade, the TB3 that has a more powerful and reliable engine that also provides more electricity for onboard equipment. Bayraktar TB3 was close enough to delivery to be proposed as the naval combat UAV for the new the LHD. If the TB3 comes with folding wings in addition to salt-water corrosion proofing, it will be carrier-ready. Sort of. The LHD could carry and operate over thirty of them. The problem with the TB2/3 is that it does not have the payload capacity to carry anti-ship or air-to-air missiles and a more powerful radar for targeting and fire control. Apparently the 700 kg TB3, with the same dimensions and capabilities of the TB2 is the largest UAV than can take off and land using the Anadolu ski-ramp deck.
There is a much larger UAV in development, the Bayraktar Akinci. This is 5.5-ton twin-engine aircraft with a 20-meter wingspan and 1.35-ton payload with 65 percent of that carried internally. Cruising speed is 220 kilometers an hour, max ceiling is 12,200 meters (40,000 feet) and endurance is 24 hours, Akinci uses satellite communications for the operator and a range limited by its endurance. Akinci is too large to land and takeoff from the Anadolu, so the TB3 is the apparently the only carrier capable UAV the Turks have for now and operating it on the Anadolu may be more difficult than expected.
The Australian versions of the Navantia, the 27,800-ton Canberra class, cost about $1.2 billion each. The first of two Turkish LHDs should be fully operational by mid-2021 and ready for UAV experiments by the end of the year. Turkey has an option buy a LHD from the Spanish builder “on demand”. In other words, once the Turks have some experience with Anadolu and a list of changes that it can afford, the second ship will be ordered. Both LHDs give Turkey the ability to quickly send troops to any hot spot in the neighborhood. This makes some of Turkey’s neighbors (like Greece, Cyprus and Israel) nervous because of strained diplomatic relations.