Wednesday 26 October 2022

Meet Türkiye’s Indigenous Unmanned Surface Vessels

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Although most military analysts are well aware of Türkiye's rise as a major drone power, meanwhile also boasting the first production multi-role unmanned combat aircraft in the world, not nearly enough know about the strides it is making 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), Türkiye is well on its way to becoming the market leader in unmanned weapons systems.
Several countries around the globe are already deploying USVs and AUSVs for mine clearing operations and harbour defence duties. Türkiye looks to drastically expand on these capabilities through the introduction of rocket, torpedo and missile-toting AUSVs. The armament of these unmanned vessels not only includes 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 overcome the differences in both quality and quantity.
The wide range of potential applications allows USVs to take 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, Türkiye appears to have come to dominate the market for AUSVs.

Türkiye's USV designs also seem well positioned to become a success on the export market, mirroring the success of its unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Türkiye 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, Türkiye 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 Constellation class (formerly designated RD09 and NB57) by Sefine Shipyard constitute 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 Constellation class 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 naval vessels. Other payload options include anti-ship missiles, guided rockets and long-range ATGMs. The Constellation class can also detect enemy submarines through sonar and sonobuoy launchers located on the rear deck. A dedicated EW variant known as the MARLIN also exists.

Possible payload configurations for the Constellation class.

Another AUSV design known as the Nebula class also from Sefine Shipyard incorporates the unique ability to submerge itself almost entirely in the water, leaving only its cabin exposed above the waterline. Its armament consists of several torpedo tubes in compartments concealed in the hull that can launch torpedoes or AShMs. This semi-submersible can travel at speeds of up to 28 knots on the surface or 8 knots whilst running semi-submersed.

The Nebula-class semi-submersible AUSV.

Dearsan Shipyard revealed its own USV lineup in December 2021, comprising 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 to 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 Türkiye'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 Türkiye 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 Türkiye 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 it)

 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)


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)
  • Constellation-Class (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 - Research


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