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Why Turkey Wants To Convert Its ‘F-35 Aircraft Carrier’ Into An Assault Drone Ship?

Turkey is planning to convert a proposed ‘F-35B aircraft carrier’, TCG Anadolu, into a carrier of armed drones, and the vessel is being tested for the same, according to defense ministry officials. 

The assault ship was designed to operate the fifth-generation F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL), stealth, multirole combat aircraft. However, things did not work according to plans after Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program by the US due to its S-400 deal with Moscow. 

“To give UAVs takeoff-and-land[ing] ability on aircraft carriers, their structure must be strong because they are subjected to very high G-shocks. We aim to develop a new [unmanned combat aerial vehicle] UCAV that will successfully land and take off on LHD Anadolu in one year,” CEO of drone-maker Baykar, Haluk Bayraktar, said during a recent interview.

Ismail Demir, the government’s president of defense industries, said companies have been working on the Baykar-made Bayraktar TB2 and other unmanned fixed-wing projects to turn Anadolu into a drone carrier, reported DefenseNews.

The report also mentioned that with the new configuration, the ship would be able to deploy at least 10 armed drones simultaneously. After the completion of the project, about 30 to 50 Byraktar TB3 drones would be able to land and take off using the Anadolu’s deck. The command and control of the ship would be integrated with the ship’s systems.

While the drone carrier is a new concept, China is also working on projects to make its future aircraft carriers able to launch and operate next-generation unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Anadolu was originally designed to be a helicopter carrier without a ski-jump ramp at the front. However, this was later revised to include those features in order to operate the F-35B STOVL aircraft.

Turkey was a Level 3 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program and the Turkish Air Force was intending to get the F-35A CTOL (conventional take-off and landing) version until the US blocked the export of the advanced fighter jet to Ankara.

The LHD would have been able to operate up to 12 helicopters or 12 F-35Bs operated by NATO allies in “light aircraft carrier” configuration. But the tussle with the US over the F-35 aircraft triggered another change in the carrier. Now, only VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) and STOVL aircraft can operate from the vessel.

As things stand, the Turkish military’s attack drones cannot land and take off from Anadolu, forcing the government to make modifications. However, this could delay the delivery of the ship, Tayfun Ozberk noted in DefenseNews. The Anadolu was earlier expected to be commissioned by May 2021.

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