Various discourses and statements regarding Turkey’s obtaining aircraft carrier is reflected in the press releases and are now expressed as one of the sectoral targets directly. This article has been written to generate ideas on Turkey’s approach of having an aircraft carrier, which is a controversial idea and conveys various reviews that have been discussed for a long time.
Turkish Navy Command is effective, forward-thinking, and innovative. The Turkish Navy Command, which is aware of the benefits that a developed navy will provide diplomatically and that has built its strategy in this direction, is building its structural growth targets in this direction.
The growth target of the Turkish Navy, which has been going on since the 2000s, has been designed to include developing the power transmission capability. As a matter of fact, in the “Turkish Naval Forces Strategy” document, the scope of being “neighboring from the sea” with the effect of globalization has been redefined and the importance of affecting the economic and security interests in every country with a seashore anywhere in the world has been emphasized.
It is clearly stated in the document that the Turkish Naval Forces operating radius needs to be expanded in line with Turkey’s security and political goals.
“The Turkish Navy, which is already “Naval Force with Medium Scale Regional Power Transfer Ability” with its current capabilities in the classification of naval forces worldwide, will take firm steps towards becoming a “Naval Force with Medium Scale Global Power Transfer Ability” within the scopes of the platforms to enter its inventory, the radius of operations expanding beyond the surrounding seas, NATO and with the perspective of collaboration with other naval forces capable of transferring power in multinational formations”
Turkey’s aim to provide or produce aircraft carriers can be considered possible when the possibilities such as expanding the area of influence, influencing instability in different parts of the world, defending the country’s defence far from the mainland are thought.
The growth of the Turkish Navy and the factors
The Turkish Navy must have an active presence in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sea of Islands. In addition, with the effects of Turkey’s growing political influence, the area in which Turkey needs to show its existence has increased. Finally, the civil war in Libya and Turkey’s intervention in the presence of the Turkish Navy have demonstrated the power transmission and need of a platform.
Turkey has come up against French Navy in the Libya shores, which has an aircraft carrier, a frigate that can lunch cruise missile to surface, and nuclear submarines; while coming up against the navies of relatively weaker countries such as Greece from past to present. In this regard, the Turkish Navy, which is active in a wider area, is to develop its commander and logistics fleet in terms of both quality and quantity.
Need for platform
The average ages of our combat frigates are as follows:
- Yavuz Class (4 units): 32
- Gabia Class (8 units): 40,3
- Barbaros Class (4 units): 22
Especially due to the age of the Gabya-class frigates, the new ships need to be supplied to the fleet in order not to further decrease the number of platforms that are currently insufficient. The average service life of a platform is planned as 40 years by the Turkish Navy.
The İ (İstif) class frigate project and the construction of the first ship are continuing. However, the project does not continue at the expected speed and the first ship is planned to be delivered in 2023. Due to the insufficient number of combat ships, Turkey, continues to hold active Burak class corvettes, which are planned to remove from inventory, with partial modernization.
In the TF-2000 Anti-Air Warfare (HSH) Destroyer project, developments related to ship design are expected to pass to Phase-2 in ÇAFRAD, which is a critical product.
Auxiliary ship classes have great importance for supporting the combat squadrons, especially at distances from the home country.
In the logistic support ship project, the ships could not be delivered since the contractor declared concordat. On the other hand, projects which are about critical logistically such as Fleet Replenishment Ship are ongoing.
TCG Anadolu and “Deploying Aircraft”
The need for increased force transfer capacity primarily affects the Turkish Navy, with Turkey’s direct proportion to the increasing political influence. It is an important output that the Turkish Navy has been aware of this situation for more than 20 years and has been able to project it by realizing the needs such as a landing platform dock. Again, a lower tonnage ship with a semi-deck similar to the Spanish Galician class was specified in the project of landing platform dock, after which the project requirements reached the same level as the ship similar to the Spanish Juan Carlos class. In this direction, TCG Anadolu was built as a project output.
As a combatant, the TCG Anadolu multi-purpose amphibious assault ship will be able to transfer force with its task force, support flight on the shore with flying elements, and serve as a command and control center at sea.
The idea of aircraft deployment to TCG Anadolu has been put forward by Resigned Assoc. Prof. Dr. Radm Cihat YAYCI who is the architect of Turkey’s strategies of East Mediterranean and Libya.
While the TCG Anadolu design was still in the project phase, in addition to these capabilities, the F-35B fighter with STOVL capability was updated to deploy. There was no F-35B request to the USA officially, but notifications were made by the Navy indeed.
In the present conjuncture, upon receiving of the S-400 system, supplying of these aircraft don’t seem to be possible due to U.S suspending the membership of Turkey in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Project.
Currently, there is no aircraft in production other than F-35B that can be deployed to TCG Anadolu. Consequently, there is no new fighter jet that can be used in TCG Anadolu.
Harrier instead of F-35B
It is possible to deploy the Harrier fighter planes, which are used only by Italy, Spain, and the USA, to TCG Anadolu. The supply of this aircraft, whose production ended in 2003, is possible only by providing it as a second hand from the mentioned countries.
Provision of Harrier aircraft, which have completed a significant part of their useful life, is not regarded as logical, but it can be evaluated in terms of accumulation of experience in Marine Aviation and its long-term response capability to asymmetric elements.
According to various sources in recent years, Turkey has knocked on Italy’s door to provide secondhand Harrier. Italy has a relatively young fleet as one of the last users of Harrier aircraft. Italy, which started to use the first TAV-8B, the training model of Harrier, in 1991, operates an F-35B and wants to use these aircraft in its navy in the future.
In 2000, the Italian Navy wanted to buy another seven units of remanufactured Harriers to equip Giuseppe Garibaldi and the new ship C550 Cavour. Meanwhile, the existing aircrafts have been updated to carry AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles and JDAM guided bombs. Eight units of AV-8Bs were inserted in Giuseppe Garibaldi between the dates November 2001 and March 2002. In 2011, the Italian Harrier which operates on the Giuseppe Garibaldi ship, took part in the United Protective Operation as part of the military intervention in Libya in 2011. Having armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinders air-to-air missiles, Harriers performed intelligence and reconnaissance missions besides airstrikes using LITENING targeting pods.
Italy initially purchased 18 units of Harriers, 2 of which were the TAV-8B Harrier II training aircraft (two-seater) and 16 AV-8B Harrier II Plus (single). 2 AV-8B Harrier II Plus went out of service due to accidents.
It is evaluated that these planes can be used until 2030-35 according to the hull life and maintenance and repair situations. If Harrier is obtained from Italy for TCG Anadolu. However, it is not known whether Italy will approach Harrier sales.
Aircraft Carrier Needs and Reality
Considering the large number of parameters, it is clear that there is still no final solution for using TCG Anatolia as a “mini aircraft carrier”.
As a speculation; if there hadn’t been problems of supplying F-35B and Turkey had used TCG Anatolia as a “mini-aircraft carrier”, a scenario of enlarging the fleet and the ability to increase order TCG Thrace, that TCG twin of Anatolia can be discussed would be waiting for Turkey. Turkey’s requirement of interfering with the distant geographical locations from the air through naval forces would have been met with this method and the need for aircraft carriers would be deferred for a significant period of time.
In the current situation, even if Harrier is provided, the fact that this will be done in limited numbers raises doubts that if it will fully meet the requested capabilities. In the scenario where Harrier supply is not possible; since long-term ability will be lacking from a naval aviation will be lacking, aircraft carrier need has voiced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the most competent person of the executive branch in Turkey.
The main question marks regarding the decision to make an aircraft carrier are these;
- How to cover high costs with the current budget: Currently, the Turkish Armed Forces are trying to exist in a wide area from Somalia to Libya, from the Mediterranean to Syria and Iraq, and also to modernize their equipment. It is a big question mark how the budget need will occur in the construction of an extremely high-cost platform such as aircraft carriers, especially in the period when the budget problems are experienced due to COVID-19.
- Creating a task group: Aircraft carriers do not work alone by their structure and usage concepts. They work together with destroyers, frigates, logistic support ships and submarines. Taking into account that the number of platforms will not increase compared to the short and medium-term plans, the Turkish Naval Forces has not been able to take even its old ships out of inventory due to the need of the platform, and how the task group will be formed is an important question. For this reason, it is not known how even the task group of TCG Anadolu will be created yet. In this type of task groups, heavy tonnage, long-range ships for air defence warfare such as TF-2000 HSH are critical. Therefore, giving priority to projects such as TF-2000 is crucial.
- Elements of flying that will be deployed onboard: The main issue is related to the structure of the aircraft carrier. There are different methods used by planes to take off from ships.
Method Pluses Minuses CATOBAR (includes catapult mechanism) High weights can be discarded
Providing high take-off speeds
Launching a large number of planes at the same time and with a short interval
Difficult to maintain
In the US monopoly
(the aircraft takes off from the ramp with its own engine)
Simple to build, cheap
No need for another mechanism to take off
The plane has to be light
Taking-off is not possible with full payload
Single aircraft can be launched at the same time
STOVL Simple to build, cheap
No need for another mechanism to take off
No need for runways for landing
Much smaller shipbuilding possible
The development and maintenance costs of this type of aircraft are very high
Only one aircraft can take off at the same time
Considering the different methods, different political doubts may arise about the aircraft resources to be provided for these ships.
Plane Landing – Takeoff Method Country Maximum Takeoff Weight (Approx.) F/A-18C/D Hornet CATOBAR USA 23.5t F/A-18E/F Super Hornet CATOBAR USA 30t EA-18G Growler CATOBAR USA 30t F-35C CATOBAR USA 32t Rafale M CATOBAR France 24.5t Su-33 STOBAR Russia 33t MiG-29K STOBAR Russia 24.5t J-15 STOBAR China 28.5t Tejas Naval STOBAR India 13.5t Sea Gripen STOBAR Sweden 16.5t Harrier / Sea Harrier STOVL England 12t F-35B STOVL USA 27t
STOVL aircraft options for Turkey in the current conjuncture is assessed in the paragraphs above. When we look at these aircraft other than airplanes as easily as we can say that Turkey has no combat aircraft available that can be politically procured easily. The most appropriate option for Turkey is that developing this aircraft regarding this need with local facilities. However, the realizability of this situation is an uncertain process with many risks.
- Making the ship design: More experience is needed to design platforms that require a high level of experience even to operate. Turkey’s capabilities to design a platform of this size is very limited. At this point, platform design should be readymade as in TCG Anatolia or technical and engineering support from a user country.
Conclusion: When all parameters are observed, the supply of aircraft carriers for Turkey; it is a very challenging process, from the design, manufacture, equipment and even operation of the ship. Until coming to this platform requiring great financing, the demands and priorities of the aircraft carrier project should be foreseen seriously and the skills that are owned must be observed, considering the projects that are faced with many problems about meeting the needs and financial problems mentioning about, such as TF-2000 HSH destroyer and Class I frigates.
Turkey’s air force fighter aircraft to meet its need for financial and political reservations on certain points, while the aircraft is one of the biggest problems that need to be met for this platform.
Considering all of these assessments, an aircraft carrier for Turkey is not remote as a thought but actually remote. It can be evaluated that it is not early to start planning and thinking, but prior to this project, extensive and very detailed feasibility studies are required.
Author: Fatih Mehmet Küçük
Translation: Elifnur Başaran