Ankara: Turkey launched its first aircraft carrier on Monday, aiming to extend its drone capabilities from land-based to naval operations amid increased regional tensions as war rages in Ukraine on the other side of the Black Sea.
The TCG Anadolu can handle only light aircraft, chiefly helicopters and jets that can take off from shorter runways. It is 232 meters long and 32 meters wide, and can carry some 1,400 personnel - one battalion of soldiers - combat vehicles and support units to operate overseas.
“This vessel will allow us to conduct military and humanitarian operations in every corner of the world, when needed,” President Tayyip Erdogan said at the launch ceremony in Istanbul.
“We see this vessel as a symbol that will consolidate Turkey’s regional leadership position,” he said.
The amphibious assault ship was built in Istanbul’s Sedef Shipyard by a Turkish-Spanish consortium, based on the design of Spanish light aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I.
Ankara’s original plan was to deploy F-35 B-model fighter jets, which can take off from shorter runways, on its largest warship.
But its plans had to change after the United States removed Turkey, a NATO ally, from its F-35 programme over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems in 2019. Turkey then converted TCG Anadolu into a drone carrier.
In addition to helicopters, Turkey plans to deploy on the new carrier Bayraktar TB3 and Kizilelma unmanned aerial combat vehicles - both under production by Turkish defence firm Baykar - as well as Hurjet light attack aircraft being developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).
TCG Anadolu will be the world’s first aircraft carrier whose fleet is made up mostly of armed drones once the plan is implemented.
Turkey, which has NATO’s second largest army, shares a border with conflict-ridden Syria and Iraq and has a long Mediterranean as well as Black Sea coastline.
In the nearly 14-month Ukraine war, Turkey has positioned itself as an intermediary between Kyiv and Moscow, helping to broker with the United Nations a deal allowing for the safe export of grain from Ukrainian ports via the Black Sea.