Turkish Naval Forces Development Prospects

Plans for development of Turkish fleet include increasing of its potential over the coming years.


Mykola Zamikula

Ukrainian version

Turkey is a country with claims for regional leadership in the troubled Middle East region. The realization of these ambitions requires not only hard diplomatic work, but also efficient modernization of the armed forces, including the Republic’s Navy.

Plans for development of Turkish fleet include increasing of its potential over the coming years. This will be done by the construction of new ships as well as by modernization of those that are already part of the naval forces. The program of future development applies to all basic components of the fleet – Surface Action Group, Submarine Group, landing component of the Navy, its logistic support and naval aviation.   

Modernization of the Surface Action Group is aimed to increase its anti-aircraft capabilities and ensure the protection of coastal waters. As of spring 2016, Turkey initiates three projects in this area (MILGEM, TF-2000 and I class frigates)

Modernization of the Surface Action Group is aimed to increase its anti-aircraft capabilities and ensure the protection of coastal waters. As of spring 2016, Turkey initiates three projects in this area (MILGEM, TF-2000 and I class frigates). Submarine Group should get new submarines of modern design. Landing potential of the Turkish Navy needs rapid updating – it will be done by construction of the amphibious assault ship and several amphibious vessels of smaller size. Also, the Naval Command plans to build an auxiliary oil replenishment ship, submarine rescue mother ship and other vessels, to increasing the number of S-70B Seahawk helicopters in the Navy.

In the mid-1990s Turkish authorities decided to strengthen coastal capacities of the Navy by building new littoral ship. A long tradition of foreign purchases of large ships or its construction under license was abolished. Turkey needed a ship that was created as national project. This decision was not only military – it was dictated by political implications as well.

Officially the project is named MILGEM (from Milli Gemi – National ship). It was launched in 1996. The concept was based on the creation of the multipurpose combat patrol ship. Special attention was paid to operations in coastal waters. Ship’s project was created with the application of stealth technology. It is supplied with Turkish digital combat management system – GENESIS, as well as with other achievements of national industry. The MILGEM’s project concept is similar to the newest littoral ships of the US Navy – USS Freedom.

Having developed the hull of the ship, Turkish High Command decided to implement MILGEM  project in two directions. Overall it was planned to build 12 ships. 8 of them will be Ada class corvettes. Another 4 – slightly larger – will be TF-100 class frigates. The difference in the characteristics between them is almost absent; it is primarily applied to anti-aircraft weapons.

According to preliminary plans of the Turkish commanders the first two corvettes of the Ada class were built at the state shipbuilding facilities. The first ship of the new class – TCG Heybeliada – was commissioned on September 27, 2011 The second ship – TCG Büyükada – joined the fleet on September 27, 2013. In January 2013 it was announced that the next six corvettes of this class will be built by the Turkish private company “RMK Marine”. The contract cost was 1.5 bln. USD. However in September 2013 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said that the agreement is canceled, becouse other shipbuilding enterprises have expressed doubts about the transparency of the tender. Unofficially, it is believed that the reason for renegotiation of the agreement was personal conflict between Erdogan and Koç family – owners of “RMK Marine”. As a result, it was decided to build a third (TCG Burgazada) and fourth (TCG Kinaliada) ships in state shipyards. As for the construction of other four corvettes of Ada class – the so-called second generation – Erdogan announced his intention to hold a new tender.

MILGEM project is crucial for the Turkish military-industrial complex. Beginning of its successful implementation stresses the capacity of the state to build large modern warships by its own. Turkish project aroused interest abroad, especially – in Pakistan and Indonesia.

Command of the Turkish Navy connects hope for its further development with the frigates of TF-2000 class. They will become the largest ships of this category in the Turkish Navy. Their main purpose is anti-aircraft defense. However other tasks are not left without attention by constructors. The decision to develop this class of ships was made in the mid-2000s. In December 2007, the Turks decided to expand the fleet by four frigates with the possibility of additional construction of two ships. However, plans were changed later – in January 2013 it was decided to expand the TF-2000 class to eight ships. To date, the project is still on paper. It is thought to make the participation of Turkish companies in the process of project implementation as wide as possible. This task primarily relates electronic and surveillance systems (sonar, radar). Thus, the Turkish government wants not only to get powerful ships in the fleet, but also to “give a push” to the national industry. In general, the first ship of TF-2000 class to be built by 2023.

Project of I class frigate is the latest initiative of the Turkish shipbuilding industry. It is known that it favored the results of MILGEM project. It uses stealth technology. According to published specifications new ship can be used for a wide range of tasks – reconnaissance, anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare, fighting with enemy surface ships. On June 30, 2015 it was decided by the Turkish authorities to lay the first ship of this class in Istanbul. It is planned to build eight frigates of such class. The first of them will be part of the fleet in 2021.

Turkey has shown interest in the German Type 214 submarine project. It is natural, taking into account the long history of Ankara’s partnership with Berlin in the field of the development of the submarine fleet. Submarines of Type 214 are the export version of the Type 212 vessels which serving in the German Navy. Their main feature is air-independent propulsion system. Due to the design they can perform a number of tasks: to conduct secret reconnaissance and special operations in coastal areas, to perform minelaying tasks, to fight enemy submarines and surface ships, to carry on patrol duties. In the process of terms agreeing of the appropriate treaty with Germany Turks sought to support their national shipbuilding capacities. They insisted that the submarines must be constructed in Turkey under license. Understanding was reached on July 2, 2009, when the parties agreed on the construction of 6 submarines on the Gölcük Naval Shipyard. The total cost of the contract that was signed with the German company HDW was 3.5 bln. USD. Under the previous plan, the submarines were to join the Turkish Navy until 2015. However, currently there is a delay in the implementation of commitments by German companies. As a result, Turkey has received compensation for the failure of the timing of the project.

The Turkish need of amphibious assault ship is created by objective requirements of our time: the state, which has claims to implement amphibious operations, should have such tool in its arsenal. It will provide support for amphibious operations of the Marines; implement transportation of armed forces to remote theaters of operation; could be used as a carrier and participate in non-military operations. The agreement on the construction of amphibious assault ship was reached with the Turkish-Spanish consortium SEDEF-“Navantia” whose offer was better than of other competitors. The official contract was signed on May 1, 2015. The cost of the project is around 1 bln. USD. The ship, which was named TCG Anadolu, is to join the Navy in 2021 and to become its flagship. Construction of the ship is planned at the Istanbul shipyards. Armament and electronic systems will be supplied by Turkish manufacturers. The project is based on the Spanish analogue – multi-purpose amphibious assault ship Juan Carlos I. From the beginning, the Turks were planning to use it exclusively in landing variant .So they wanted to abolish a “ski-jump” ramp for planes in the bow of the original Spanish project. As a result, they thought to receive powerful but specific tool for the implementation of amphibious operations. However, the decision was changed by the Naval Command. Now TCG Anadolu is also going to be used in the form of a light aircraft carrier – Turkish F-35B will be based there. This causes some changes in the characteristics of the ship. As a transport ship TCG Anadolu can carry 27 amphibious assault vehicles, from 2 to 4 small amphibious vessels and 29 main battle tanks.

Analysis of the prospects of the Turkish Navy allows to make some conclusions. Firstly, self-relience is the foundation of the Turkish shipbuilding policy. It opens a new stage in the development of the naval forces of the republic. This is a conscious strategy that aims to affect gradually the construction of all classes of ships. Secondly, the most important direction of the development of the Turkish fleet is increasing its potential in the coastal zone. That is what the MILGEM project (which includes the development and construction of littoral ships) and construction of a new amphibious assault ship are aimed for. The latter enhances greatly the landing component if the Turkish Navy. This vector of development is naturally reasonable by geographical location of Turkey, which has no ocean interests, but is surrounded by seas. Thirdly, preparation and successful implementation of some projects in the field of shipbuilding opens opportunities for promotion of Turkey in international arms markets. However, in this case there are a lot of deterrent factors. This industry and market are not very friendly for beginners. Turkey is not a global power such as the US and China, which could curry favor for the project through a comprehensive aid and concessions in other areas. We should also mention the failure of Turkey to provide full technological support of their projects. At last, the development of modern Turkish Navy is moved in a direction that was chosen during its total hegemony in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. But situation is changing rapidly in recent years. Annexation of Crimea by Russia has led to a rapid increase of strength of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Turkey should respond to these trends by making relevant changes in the fleet development program.