The TCG Anadolu LHD (Landing Helicopter Dock), an amphibious assault ship, will soon be the most capable and powerful warship of the Turkish Navy. On Sept. 17, 2022 the Presidency of the Defense Industry (SSB) organized a press tour aboard the Anadolu, where the head of the SSB, Professor İsmail Demir, announced that the LHD would be delivered to the navy by the end of this year. The Turkish Navy will designate TCG Anadolu as the flagship of the fleet. With TCG Anadolu, Turkey will be one of the few countries with power projection capabilities, proving that the owner countries have both military and political power. So what unique capabilities will TCC Anadolu have, and how will Turkey use these capabilities for national and NATO missions?
The Sedef Shipyard is building TCG Anadolu in collaboration with Spain’s Navantia Shipyard under the Turkish LHD project. Construction of Anadolu began on April 17, 2016, the first steel-cutting ceremony was held on April 30, 2016 and the Turkish flag was raised on March 4, 2022. The official sea acceptance test for Anadolu, the final stage before the ship’s delivery to the navy, started on June 2022 and is still ongoing.
TCG Anadolu is based on the Navantia Atlas LHD 26,000 design, similar to the Spanish Navy’s Juan Carlos-I class and the Royal Australian Navy’s Canberra-class LHDs. Anadolu will be the Turkish Navy’s largest warship, with a length of 231 meters, a width of 32 meters and a total displacement of 27,436 tons. When fully loaded, the ship will have a top speed of 20.5 knots and a range of 9,000 nautical miles. TCG Anadolu has 30-day endurance and can carry a battalion-sized amphibious task force with its equipment and a total of 94 vehicles, including 13 Altay main battle tanks and 27 FNSS Zaha marine assault vehicles.
The naval forces were planning to use TCG Anadolu not only as an amphibious assault ship but also as a light aircraft carrier. Anadolu was designed to carry a fleet of helicopters and short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) fighters such as the F-35B version of fifth-generation stealth aircraft or the AV-8B Harrier. Anadolu can sustain and operate six F-35Bs.
In 2017, Turkey was reportedly interested in buying leftover AV-8B Harriers from the US to serve as interim fighters for TCG Anadolu until it eventually acquired F-35Bs. The US subsequently removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program because it had purchased Russia’s S-400 air defense system in 2019.
In March 2021 the Turkish government decided to convert TCG Anadolu into an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) carrier ship. Speaking at a press briefing at Sedef Shipyard in Tuzla, İstanbul, on Sept. 17, 2022, SSB President Demir said: “The Baykar Defense company is continuing its studies to transform TCG Anadolu into the first UAV ship in the world with UAVs that will land and take off in the future. As you know, development of the Bayraktar TB-3 UAV has begun. In addition, various studies are underway in the design phase for the Kızılelma unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) developed by Baykar Defense and the Hürjet Light Attack Aircraft developed by TUSAŞ to land and take off on LHDs. Aside from helicopters, integration and adaptation studies for the TB-3 UAV and the Kızılelma, and Hürjet platforms will continue after the ship’s commissioning.”
Turkey is trying to fill the gap created by the absence of F-35Bs with UCAVs and UAVs. The lack of F-35s will cause significant losses in the air power of TCG Anadolu. It will be difficult to call Anadolu a light aircraft carrier without F-35Bs. To date, no actual landing or take-off operations have been conducted with TB-3 and Kızılelma. However, if Turkey can deploy UCAVs and UAVs on Anadolu, it will have power projection capability with reduced air power.
Turkey can deploy TCG Anadolu in the Black Sea, eastern Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Horn of Africa and Indian Ocean for gunboat diplomacy. This way, it can convert its military power into political power through diplomatic activities. LHD warships contribute to the deterrence capabilities and soft power of the country that possesses them by being used in humanitarian aid and evacuation operations.
With TCG Anadolu, which can serve as a rapidly deployable and scalable headquarters, the Turkish Navy will be one of only a few countries in NATO that can plan and execute full-spectrum combined maritime operations. On July 31, 2018 Turkey announced to NATO the establishment of the Turkish Maritime Force (TURMARFOR) for NATO operations, including TCG Anadolu as a command-and-control ship. TURMARFOR will be a milestone for the navy to take on more significant duties in NATO. Turkey (TURMARFOR), like the United Kingdom (UKMARFOR), France (FRMARFOR), Spain (SPMARFOR), Italy (ITMARFOR), the Netherlands (NLMARFOR) and the United States (STRIKFORNATO), will have a NATO Response Force (NRF) headquarters after being evaluated by NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM) in terms of NATO procedures.
The commissioning of TCG Anadolu will be a turning point in the history of the Turkish naval forces. As the flagship of TURMARFOR, Anadolu will strengthen Turkey’s position in NATO while increasing deterrence through its contributions to Turkey’s soft and hard power in a geopolitical landscape that has radically changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He is using a pseudonym out of security concerns.