Saturday, 22 January 2022

The Market Leader: Turkey’s Indigenous Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs)

By Stijn Mitzer
Although many military analysts are well aware of Turkey's rise to a drone power, meanwhile also including the first production multi-role unmanned combat aircraft in the world, not nearly enough know about Turkey's strives in the design of unmanned surface vessels (USVs). [1] The year 2021 witnessed the unveiling of three armed unmanned surface vessel (AUSV) types, the ULAQ-series by ARES, the NB57/RD09 by Sefine and the USV 11/15 by Dearsan. Thanks to these designs, its UCAVs and a great number of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), Turkey is well on its way to becoming the market leader in unmanned weapon systems.
Several countries around the globe are already deploying USVs and AUSVs for mine clearing operations and harbour defence duties. Turkey looks to drastically expand on these capabilities through the introduction of rocket, torpedo and missile-toting AUSVs. The armament of these unmanned vessels does not only include anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) with a range of some eight kilometres, but also 220+km-ranged Atmaca anti-ship missiles (AShMs). The introduction of these multi-role AUSVs to the Aegean Sea in large numbers could see a significant shift in the naval balance to the point that the Greek Navy is unlikely to ever subside the differences in quality and quantity.
The wide range of potential applications allows USVs to take over over many of the duties currently carried out by manned vessels. In addition to anti-surface warfare (AsuW) and minesweeping USVs, Turkish shipyards have designed USVs for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), electronic warfare and even firefighting tasks. Aselsan has also developed USVs that can conduct autonomous operations and operate in swarms, providing yet another layer of independent operations. [2] Through the simultaneous design of these types within just a matter of years, Turkey appears to have positioned itself as the absolute market leader in AUSVs.

Turkey's USV designs also seem well positioned to become a success on the export market, mirroring the success of Turkey's unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Turkey is arguably the first country that has managed to combine reliability and affordability of unmanned systems with effective results on the battlefield. Their attractiveness to foreign customers might be precisely what ensures their success, escaping the fate of USV designs the world over that were ultimately only produced in scarce numbers. In December 2021 it was reported that ARES Shipyard was in the final stages of negotiations with two European countries for the sale of the ULAQ-series of AUSVs. [3]

The ULAQ AUSV is equipped with the Yalman weapon station that can hold up to four L-UMTAS ATGMs, eight Cirit guided rockets, four SUNGUR MANPADS or an combination of these types.

The ULAQ AUSV developed by ARES Shipyard and Meteksan Defence has the honour of becoming the world's first operationally-ready AUSV after successfully completed firing tests in May 2021. [4] This is soon to be followed by trials of the ULAQ ASW variant as ARES Shipyard is ramping up production to eventually produce up to 50 ULAQ USVs per year. [4] Combined with the production of USVs by other Turkish shipyards, Turkey could produce in excess of 100 (A)USVs a year. All AUSVs are equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) turrets and radars, which enables them to seek out their targets at long distances and swiftly intercept them with their high speed of some 50 knots.

The USV types currently on offer by ARES Shipyard.

The RD09 and NB57 by Sefine Shipyard comprise the first multi-role AUSV designs in the world. This is achieved by the addition of two smaller outrigger hulls that can hold one weapon station each for a total of three weapon stations. A typical loadout for the NB57 could consist of four 25+km-ranged 324mm ORKA lightweight torpedoes for use against enemy submarines, and up to eight Roketsan Cirit guided rockets and a 12.7mm RWS to fend off enemy ships. The NB57 can detect enemy submarines through sonar and twenty sonobuoy launchers located on the rear deck. The RD09/NB57 boast an operational range of some 1100 kilometres and can operate for four days without refuelling. A promotional video of the RD09 and NB57 can be viewed here.

Dearsan Shipyard revealed its own USV lineup in December 2021, consisting of the 11-metres long USV 11 and the 15-metres long USV 15. [5] Dearsan has enjoyed considerable success with its ship designs in countries like Nigeria and Turkmenistan, and it not unlikely that these same countries will also look at Dearsan to one day acquire AUSVs. The USV 11 can be armed with a Yalman weapon station or a RWS fitted with a 12.7mm HMG. The USV 15 can be equipped with either two Yalman weapon stations or two RWS. A dedicated reconnaissance variant of the USV 15 also exists.

Dearsan's USV lineup. These AUSVs are marketed as 'SALVO'. [6]

The latest unveiled USV type is the Sancar AUSV designed by Yonca-Onuk Shipyard. Yonca-Onuk is perhaps most famous for its MRTP patrol boats, which so far have entered service with several export customers including Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Pakistan. The Sancar AUSV can be armed with a Yalman weapon station armed with four L-UMTAS ATGMs or eight Cirit guided rockets on the rear of the vessel and one 12.7mm RWS installed midships.

The Sancar AUSV.

The small size of Turkey's AUSVs means that they can easily be transported by air and road and even deploy from the well deck of landing platform docks (LPDs) and landing helicopter docks (LHDs). For Turkey specifically, this could see the TCG Anadolu LHD becoming the first ship in the world to deploy both fixed-wing UCAVs and AUSVs. Other naval vessels like frigates can similarly launch and recover AUSVs using their onboard crane. This significantly expands their range and scope, and allows surface combatants to carry their own escorts in the form of AUSVs when sailing into contested waters like the Strait of Hormuz. The design of larger USVs by Turkey lays well within expectations for a country that appears dead set on becoming the market leader in unmanned platforms over, on and below the waves.

(Click on the USV to see a picture of them)

 USV - Long-Range Anti-Surface Warfare (LR-ASuW)

  • ULAQ AsuW - G/M (Armed with four 150-km ranged ÇAKIR AShMs/cruise missiles or 220+km-ranged Atmaca AShMs and one 12.7mm RWS)

USV - Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW)

  • ULAQ AUSV (1) (Armed with four L-UMTAS ATGMs or eight Cirit guided rockets or one 12.7mm RWS)
  • ULAQ AUSV (2) (Armed with four L-UMTAS ATGMs or eight Cirit guided rockets and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • ULAQ Base/Harbour Defence Boat (Armed with one 12.7mm RWS)
  • RD09 (Armed with eight L-UMTAS ATGMs or sixteen Cirit guided rockets, twenty sonobuoys and one 12.7mm RWS in trimaran configuration)
  • USV 11 AUSV (1) (Armed with four L-UMTAS ATGMs or eight Cirit guided rockets)
  • USV 11 AUSV (2) (Armed with one 12.7mm RWS)
  • USV 15 AUSV (Armed with four L-UMTAS ATGMs or eight Cirit guided rockets and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • Sancar (Armed with four L-UMTAS ATGMs or eight Cirit guided rockets and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • Levent (Armed with one 12.7mm RWS) 
  • MİR (Armed with one 12.7mm RWS)

USV - Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW)

  • ULAQ AAW (Armed with four SUNGUR MANPADS) [Not yet seen]

USV - Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)

  • ULAQ LT (1) (Armed with two 25+km-ranged 324mm ORKA torpedoes and twelve sonobuoys)
  • ULAQ LT (2) (Armed with two 25+km-ranged 324mm ORKA torpedoes, sonar and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • ULAQ LT (3) (Armed with one Roketsan ASW rocket launcher and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • ULAQ HT (Armed with one 50+km 533mm AKYA torpedo, two Roketsan ASW rocket launchers and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • ULAQ MCMV (Armed with two Roketsan ASW rocket launchers and one 12.7mm RWS)
  • NB57 (Armed with four 25+km-ranged 324mm ORKA torpedoes, a Roketsan ASW rocket launcher, twenty sonobuoys and one 12.7mm RWS in trimaran configuration)

USV - Mine Countermeasures (MCM)

  • ULAQ MCMV (Equipped with one minehunting ROV, two Roketsan ASW rocket launchers and one 12.7mm RWS)

USV - Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance / Electronic Warfare and Jamming (ISR & EW)


USV - Firefighting and SAR

  • ULAQ FiFi (Equipped with three water pumps and four inflatable liferafts)

USV - Swarm USVs

  •  Albatros-S (Technology demonstrator. Future tasks still unknown)

USV - Seaborne Targets


The ULAQ LR-AsuW armed with four ATMACA anti-ship missiles with a range of some 220 kilometres.

[1] Arsenal of the Future: The Akıncı And Its Loadout
[2] First Phase of ASELSAN’s Swarm USV Project Albatros-S Completed  
[4] Turkey’s ULAQ USCV hits the target during Denizkurdu 2021 exercise 
[6] Turkey’s new armed USV ‘SALVO’ passes initial firing trials
[7] A New Power Is Coming to the Blue Homeland Defense: SANCAR SİDA