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Turkey Has A New Amphibious Vehicle For Marines Everywhere

May 14, 2019


The recent IDEF 2019 arms show in Istanbul was dominated by Turkish vehicle manufacturers who enjoyed generous amounts of media exposure and official patronage. Not to be outdone by its competitors, export savvy FNSS held nothing back and parked its entire land systems catalog in an orderly row. Having closed major deals with Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, and Qatar in the last eight years alone, FNSS has emerged as a serious contender in its niche. But their latest creation surely turned a lot of heads at IDEF 2019. Modeled after the AAV-7 of the US Marine Corps, the ZAHA (an acronym for the program behind its creation) offers enhanced protection and survivability for amphibious “ship-to-shore” operations.

FNSS revealed a small batch of ZAHA’s are scheduled for delivery to Turkey’s marines who exist as a contingent under the navy’s control. A total of 23 ZAHA transports plus two command and two recovery vehicles are expected although these are meant to familiarize Turkey’s marines with their use. Of course, it’s possible for dozens of ZAHA’s to roll out of FNSS’ factory in the coming years as Turkey’s navy inducts a new amphibious assault ship based on the Spanish Juan Carlos-class LHD made by Navantia. Each of these vessels are able to hold 900 marines and their motor pool that may include a full tank battalion.

Each ZAHA has an armor suite of unspecified strength covering its hull and even provides blast protection for its bottom. With the unchecked proliferation of anti-material rifles and shoulder-fired rocket launchers in mind, such protective enhancements make sense. A remote weapon station on its roof carries two armaments, a .50 caliber machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. FNSS haven’t clarified if alternate defenses and countermeasures are available for the ZAHA. At this point its performance characteristics are only hinted at. Does it seat as many troops as an AAV-7? (That will be 25 marines plus three crew.)

In 2016 the US engineering firm SAIC was contracted to prototype an armor upgrade for the USMC’s aging AAV-7’s. This was driven by an awareness of its vulnerability from shaped projectiles. The result of that effort, which was cancelled in 2018, looks like it influenced the ZAHA too. But FNSS always benefited from input by foreign companies. During the 1990s, for example, a collaboration with BAE Systems allowed it to roll out the ACV-19 that was based on the successful M2 Bradley.

Another successful venture is the FNSS Pars wheeled troop carrier based on the German Fennek armored scout car. The company is now pushing the Pars 4×4 as a cost-effective high mobility tank destroyer armed with two anti-tank missiles on a remote controlled turret. Given the ZAHA’s size the the frequent collaboration among Turkish manufacturers, it isn’t far-fetched to envision an ATGM married to a 25mm cannon on the ZAHA’s roof–local companies such as Aselsan (the turret), Roketsan (OMTAS missile), and MKEK (20mm and 25mm cannons) are at hand to make it happen.

How successful the ZAHA can be is far from certain. This early in its development and FNSS made it clear the vehicle is tailored for exports to clients such as Indonesia, whose own state-owned companies are partnered with FNSS for a medium tank. But if the ZAHA paves the way for a stronger Turkish marine capability this signals the re-emergence of a problematic naval power in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey’s territorial disputes with Cyprus and Greece are uncomfortable flashpoints on the edge of Europe. The plans for Turkish military bases abroad, such as in Qatar and perhaps near the Red Sea, are further proof Ankara’s ambitions are a long-term project and marine forces have a role to play in it.

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