The rise of drone carriers

The rise of drone carriers

Recent unveilings of Turkish and Chinese drone carriers mark a new era of drone integration in maritime operations.


Drones have already demonstrated immense potential in various aspects of modern warfare, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeted strikes. As the world’s navies continue to seek advanced capabilities and strategic advantages, drones are increasingly being integrated into the maritime arena, offering unparalleled versatility and efficiency.

In the maritime domain, drones serve a wide range of functions. They can conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, gathering crucial information about potential threats, such as enemy vessels, submarines, or aircraft, without risking human lives. This capability allows naval forces to maintain situational awareness and make informed decisions during complex operations.

The recent unveiling of drone carriers, such as Turkey’s TCG Anadolu and China’s Zhu Hai Yun, marks a new era in integrating drones into the maritime domain. As reported by the Eurasian Times, Turkey has commissioned its largest warship, the TCG Anadolu, which is also the world’s first drone carrier. This historic vessel is specifically designed to accommodate various types of unmanned systems, including aerial, surface, and underwater drones, greatly expanding the operational capabilities of the Turkish Navy.

On the other hand, according to CGTN News, China has built the world’s first autonomous seaborne drone carrier, the Zhu Hai Yun. This pioneering vessel is capable of autonomous navigation and remote control, making it a groundbreaking development in the field of drone carriers. The Zhu Hai Yun further highlights China’s commitment to advancing its naval capabilities and solidifies its position as a leader in drone technology.

With drone carriers like the TCG Anadolu and the Zhu Hai Yun, navies can now deploy unmanned systems more efficiently and effectively than ever before. These carriers allow for increased flexibility and adaptability in naval operations and enable rapid responses to emerging threats, ensuring that naval forces remain at the forefront of maritime security.

According to reports in 2022, the US Navy was considering possibly loading aircraft carriers with a significant number of drones to serve multiple purposes. The Navy was exploring different types of drones, including autonomous systems that could be deployed in sizable swarms. This initiative aimed to enhance the Navy’s capabilities while minimising the risks to human personnel. Nevertheless, numerous operational and logistical challenges must be resolved before this plan can be implemented.

As drone carriers become more prevalent and the use of drones in the maritime domain continues to grow, the need for effective countermeasures against hostile drones becomes increasingly important. This is where Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) come into play.

C-UAS systems are essential for drone carriers for several reasons:

Protection against hostile drones: As drone technology advances, adversaries may also deploy unmanned aerial systems to gather intelligence, perform reconnaissance, or launch attacks against naval vessels. Due to their high strategic value, drone carriers may become prime targets for such actions. C-UAS systems can detect, track, and neutralise hostile drones, ensuring the safety of the drone carrier and its complement of unmanned systems.

Maintaining operational integrity: A drone carrier’s primary function is to deploy and support various unmanned systems during missions. If an adversary’s drone disrupts the carrier’s operations, it could significantly compromise the effectiveness of the entire mission. C-UAS systems help maintain operational integrity by defending against drone-based threats.

Preserving airspace control: Drone carriers rely on maintaining control of the airspace around them to deploy and manage their unmanned systems effectively. Hostile drones can challenge this control, creating confusion and putting friendly drones at risk. C-UAS systems can help drone carriers control airspace by identifying and eliminating potential threats.

Adaptability to emerging threats: The rapid evolution of drone technology means that new and more advanced drone-based threats will continue to emerge. C-UAS systems must also evolve to keep pace with these developments, ensuring that drone carriers remain well-defended against current and future threats.

As drone carriers such as Turkey’s TCG Anadolu and China’s Zhu Hai Yun continue to shape the future of naval warfare, the importance of integrating C-UAS systems cannot be overstated. These countermeasures will play a crucial role in protecting drone carriers and their valuable unmanned assets, ensuring that they can fulfil their missions effectively and maintain a strategic advantage in an increasingly complex and contested global environment.

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