Written by Brian Kalman exclusively for SouthFront; Brian Kalman is a management professional in the marine transportation industry. He was an officer in the US Navy for eleven years. He currently resides and works in the Caribbean.
The first of two new Landing Ship Tank (LST) landing ships entered service with the Turkish Navy on April 22nd of this year. The TCG Bayraktar L-402 successfully completed Sea Acceptance Tests (SAT) and was delivered on April 14th, with the official acceptance ceremony taking place a week later. The procurement of the new class of LST is just one element of the Turkish Navy’s ongoing amphibious fleet modernization program. In addition, the first Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), TCG Anadolu L-400, is under construction, with a planned commissioning date in 2020.
A New Breed of LST
The Bayraktar class LST was designed, built and commissioned in a period of just 46 months. The second vessel in class, TCG Sancaktar L-403 is on schedule to be delivered to the navy in October of 2017, contingent upon successful completion of sea trials. These vessels represent a significant improvement over the Turkish Navy’s obsolete fleet of aging landing ships originally procured from the United States in the 1970s.
The TCG Bayraktar is equipped with bow doors and a heavy capacity bow ramp for discharging both heavy vehicles and troops.
The design and general layout of the Bayraktar class bears some resemblance to the ROK Navy’s Cheon Wang Bong class LST. The Turkish vessel retains a conventional bow-first landing design for discharging troops and equipment via a bow ramp, while the Korean vessel has dispended with any bow discharging capabilities. Both vessels are equipped with large forward deck cranes designed to embark/disembark large landing craft stowed on deck. Both classes of vessel have stern and side ramps for loading and unloading vehicles and stores while berthed at conventional dock facilities. The vessels are self-sustaining when it comes to loading and unloading, and do not require shore based cranes or elaborate port infrastructure. Both vessels also operate helicopters from an aft flight deck, with the ROK vessel able to accommodate two helicopters simultaneously. The similarities in the two LSTs is not much of a surprise, as Turkey and South Korea have engaged in a great deal of cooperation in the defense industry for many years.
TCG Bayraktar L402. The twin bow-mounted 40mm cannon are clearly visible in this photo, as well as the large hydraulic deck cranes for handling LCVPs and deck cargos, including vehicles. The four LCVPs usually carried are not present on deck in this photo. The two circular representations of propellers on the lower hull forward, denote the presence of two bow-thrusters that aid in low speed maneuverability when berthing and landing the vessel.
The new LSTs displace just over 7,250 tons loaded, with an LOA of 138.7 meters and beam of 19.6 meters. Cruising speed at sea is 18 knots, with a range of approximately 5,000 nautical miles. The vessel is designed to accommodate 350 troops, 20 MBTS, and between 24 and 60 light vehicles dependent upon the amount of MBTs and other equipment/cargo carried. Internal vehicle stowage is approximately 1,100 square meters, with an additional 690 square meters of open deck space forward of the superstructure. Four Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel (LCVP) are stowed on the open deck, and are lowered and raised by two large hydraulic cranes mounted just forward of the superstructure, one port and one starboard. Each LCVP can accommodate either 40 marines or 8 tons worth of vehicles and cargo. The vessel has one large stern ramp, a side ramp located on the port side, and a large bow ramp that is lowered into place upon opening of the two large bow doors.
This photo clearly illustrates the bow first beaching ability of the design, the large bow doors and forward ramp, as well as the four LCPVs carried just forward of the house. Four LCPVs and a rigid inflatable boat can be seen loaded on the weather deck.
The Bayraktar has a defensive armament consisting of two 40mm Oto Malara deck guns mounted port and starboard on the bow, 2 Mk15 CIWS close-in defense rotary cannons, and 2 crew-serviced 12.7mm machine guns. The Havelsan GENESIS combat management system (CMS) is fitted, and married to a Thales SMART-S Mk2 radar, making these new LSTs the most capable amphibious vessels in the Turkish Navy’s inventory. The vessels not only increase the amphibious warfare capabilities of the navy, but when coupled with the Anadolu LHD currently under construction, provide a limited power projection capability. The vessels are also very useful in carrying out Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.
The Anadolu Class LPD/LHD
In May of 2015, the government of President Erdogan officially signed a contract with Navantia of Spain to build an LHD based on the Juan Carlos I LHD in service with the Spanish Navy. The same design served as the basis for the Royal Australian Navy vessels HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide. The Juan Carlos I template will be altered in a number of ways to produce an LHD that meets the specifications sought by the Turkish Navy.
The Anadolu will retain the ski-jump ramp of the Juan Carlos I design. Although the Australian government was quick to stress that there is no plan to operate VSTOL attack aircraft from their LHDs, Turkish authorities have been very forthcoming about the intention of operating F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the future TCG Anadolu. It is most likely that a small number of F-35Bs will be in service with the Turkish Navy by the time the Anadolu becomes operational sometime between 2020 and 2021, although the costly aircraft has been plagued with many design and technical issues since its inception.
The TCG Anadolu will adhere closely to the basic Juan Carlos I template, having a traditional well-deck for amphibious assault, sizeable internal vehicle and cargo stowage decks, and a large flight deck that can accommodate both fixed-wing VSTOL and rotary aircraft operations. Although originally described as an LPD, the vessel being built will actually conform more to the design and function of a traditional LHD, with a fully loaded displacement of between 24,000 and 27,000 tons.
The TCG Anadolu L400 will largely resemble the SPS Juan Carlos I operated by the Spanish Navy.
The Anadolu will most likely operate eight CH-47F helicopters for air assault/troop transport, two S-70B Seahawks for ASW coverage, and possibly an attack element of four T-129 ATAK attack helicopters. The remainder of the strike/attack element will be comprised of six F-35B VSTOL aircraft, if and when this aircraft becomes operational with the Turkish military. Use of the F-35B will require significant reinforcement of the flight deck to handle the thrust produced by the aircraft when operating in VSTOL configuration. The ski-jump ramp will reduce the thrust required for take-off; however, landing can only be achieved by landing the F-35B vertically, with the aircraft producing 50,000 lbf. of thrust. U.S. Navy vessels testing the feasibility of VSTOL take-off and landing of the F-35B have experienced significant heat damage to flight decks due to the high output of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. The Spanish Juan Carlos I was designed to operate the AV-8 Harrier that makes use of the Rolls Royce F-402-RR-408 vectored thrust turbofan, producing only 28,000 lbf. of thrust. The Navantia engineers must take this fact into account when designing the Anadolu’s flight deck.
The L400’s well deck will be able to accommodate either two LCACs, two LCPVs, or 4 LCMs. The heavy vehicle deck can accommodate between 24 and 29 MBTs, as many as 110 light vehicles, or a combination of MBTs, light vehicles and cargo. The vessel will also have a fully equipped hospital and accommodation for up to 900 troops. Defensive armament will consist of two Mk15 Phalanx CWIS, one Mk49 Rolling Airframe Missile launcher, and five 25mm automatic cannons.
A scale model of the future TCG Anadolu L400. The cutaway illustrates the well deck aft, and the heavy vehicle deck just forward of the well deck. The light vehicle deck and aviation hangar are on the next deck above with one aircraft elevator located forward of the island on the starboard side, as well as a larger elevator on the centerline, all the way aft.
A Small but Growing Power Projection Capability
Turkey has never possessed a vessel like the Anadolu, and the question must now be asked, how does Turkey intend to use such a vessel? In an official ceremony preceding the signing of the contract between Navantia of Spain and the Turkish government, President Erdogan expressed his views on the subject:
“A developing and growing Turkey has to make its presence increasingly felt abroad, as well. In fact, I consider this step, taken at a time when threats against our country get more challenging, as a belated step, because we should be more visible in the international arena and this nation should take the matters into its own hands. There is no other way out.”
President Edrogan seems to convey a number of messages in this simple statement. Firstly, Turkey is in need of a viable power projection capability, even if only a limited one. While the original plan for the Anadolu had dispensed with the ski-jump ramp of the Juan Carlos I, and featured a smaller flight deck designed only for helicopter operations, the decision was made at the highest level of government to retain the original flight deck design, allowing for VSTOL strike aircraft to be carried. He also alludes to Turkey’s acknowledgment that NATO is not a reliable partner when it comes to securing its national security interests. Turkey must stand on her own two feet and act unilaterally. Operation Euphrates Shield is a glaring example of this independent departure from NATO, although it is arguable whether this unilateral action has made Turkey more secure.
President Erdogan of Turkey speaking at an official function marking the beginning of the TCG Anadolu building program on April 30th, 2016. The contract with Navantia was signed one week later on May 7th 2016.
Turkey’s regional neighbors, Greece, Syria and Russia chief amongst them, are likely to be concerned over the modernization and increased capabilities being sought by the Turkish political and military leadership. Russia will have to make strategic contingencies for a Turkish power projection force in both the Black Sea and one that may threaten the port of Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Syria will face an added naval threat along its entire Mediterranean coast, especially when the weak state of Syria’s current navy is taken into consideration. Greece, a traditional adversary of Turkey over the centuries, will have to take a very close look at the possible effect such a powerful new tool will have on the long running balance of power stalemate in Cypress.
A Turkish warship took part in the NATO naval exercise Sea Breeze 2017 in the Black Sea, held between July 10th and July 22nd. Turkey engaged in a bilateral naval exercise named PASSEX with Russia in the same body of water just months before, in early April. As Turkey’s foreign and domestic policy goals increasingly diverge from that of NATO, the question remains whether we will see the Turkish Navy’s newest amphibious warfare vessels deployed to the Black Sea in partnership with vessels of the NATO alliance, or in bilateral cooperation with Russia? The next six months of war in Syria, and the possible conflicting goals of Turkey and their NATO allies the United States and Britain, who have increased the number of special operations forces deployed on the ground in Syria to aid the SDF and the YPG, as well as increasing the supply of weapons, equipment and armored vehicles to these forces in northern Syria, may very well determine the eventual answer to this question. As NATO continues to ramp up its aid to the Kurdish YPG, Turkey may find its membership in NATO as less and less of a benefit to its national security interests.