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Source: Forbes

May 9, 2023

Turkey And Iran Are Commissioning Unique Drone Carriers

BY Paul Iddon

Turkey and Iran have made significant headway in developing so-called drone carriers. In addition to this, both countries maintain they are capable of building aircraft carriers down the road.

On Apr. 10, the Turkish Navy commissioned its new flagship, the TCG Anadolu (LHD-400) amphibious assault ship. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the ceremony at the Sedef Shipyard and lauded the new vessel.

“TCG Anadolu is the first UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) carrier in the world,” he declared. “Our Bayraktar TB3 UCAV, Kizilelma unmanned fighter jet and Hurjet light attack aircraft will be able to take off and land on this ship.”

ISTANBUL, TURKIYE - APRIL 10: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Nationalist Movement ... [+]


The Anadolu is a landing helicopter dock rather than a full-fledged aircraft carrier. Unlike the supercarriers of the United States Navy, the Anadolu can only support fighters with short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities, such as the F-35B variant. It is not wholly unlike the amphibious assault ships operated by the U.S. Marine Corps, which also carry F-35Bs.

After the United States banned Turkey from buying any F-35s in 2019 for taking delivery of the S-400 air defense missile system it bought from Russia, Ankara decided to use the Anadolu as a drone carrier. Turkey subsequently developed a naval version of its well-known Bayraktar TB2 drone. The Bayraktar TB3 is bigger and has a heavier payload than its TB2 predecessor. It also has folding wings, meaning it will take up less space on the ship’s deck. A prototype was exhibited in public for the first time in late April.

The Anadolu will undoubtedly have a unique air wing if Turkey fulfills its stated goal of operating both TB3 drones and jet-powered unmanned Kizilelma fighters from its deck.

Either way, the new flagship is not a full-fledged aircraft carrier and may ultimately prove less capable than comparable amphibious assault ships that have F-35Bs in their air wings.

Erdogan has talked about Turkey potentially building aircraft carriers for years. He previously expressed his hope that the Anadolu project would become the first step toward developing “the most elite” of aircraft carriers.

Turkey isn’t the only regional country producing drone carriers and simultaneously talking about eventually building aircraft carriers. Its neighbor Iran also has some interesting projects in the works.

In early May, Brig. Gen. Alireza Tangsiri, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) Navy, said Iran plans to build a “unique” aircraft carrier.

“One of our most important current plans is the construction of an aircraft carrier. This ship will be unique in the world,” he said. “The carrier we talk about will have significant capabilities. In addition to carrying aircraft, this ship will have the capability to carry a large number of missile launchers, which will make the ship unique.”

Iranian officials have publicly spoken about Tehran’s plans to build aircraft carriers since at least 2014. In December 2016, Iranian media quoted Admiral Peiman Jafari Tehrani, Deputy Navy commander for Coordination, saying: “Building an aircraft carrier is among the goals pursued by the navy and we hope to attain this objective.”

The following December, another Iranian official declared that Iran could build 200-meter-long warships “or aircraft carriers if the government does the budgeting.”

Iran is presently modifying two merchant ships to carry aircraft for the IRGC-Navy, the Shahid Mahdavi and Shahid Bagheri.

Speaking to Iran’s national TV on Feb. 23, Tangsiri explained that the Shahid Mahdavi would come equipped with four “missiles with a range of 750 and 300 km (466 and 186 miles), and three helicopters can land and take off on its deck.”

The Shahid Bagheri, on the other hand, will serve as a drone carrier. According to Tangsiri, it will have a 180-meter runway. It will also carry 30 Ashura-class fast patrol boats.

On May 1, independent defense analyst H I Sutton noted the addition of a ski ramp on the Shahid Bagheri as part of its “unique flight deck layout.”

He further noted that the flight deck and ski-jump are angled to the ship’s starboard, “a workaround to the superstructure which is the full width of the ship.” These modifications will enable drones “to land as well as take off,” although it remains unclear what models the IRGC will ultimately use on the vessel.

In an earlier analysis from December, Sutton pointed out that “The fact that the superstructure spans the original deck means that a traditional aircraft carrier layout is not possible.”

Turkish and Iranian officials often boast of their success in building indigenous warships. In his speech marking the Anadolu’s commissioning, Erdogan claimed 70 percent of the ship’s components were made in Turkey. Tangsiri similarly hailed the IRGC’s success in building destroyers.

However, neither of these drone carriers was entirely designed and built from scratch. The Anadolu is, of course, based on the design of Spain’s Juan Carlos I. The Shahid Bagheri is a modified container ship formerly known as the Perarin launched in 2000.

While these ships will enable Ankara and Tehran to project power and provide substantive logistics for operations far beyond their respective shores, neither is an adequate substitute for an actual aircraft carrier.

Follow Paul Iddon on Twitter

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