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Turkey Steadily Builds Its Coastal Muscles

Jan. 13, 2014 - 06:02PM   |  
By BURAK EGE BEKDIL   |   Comments
The remaining four of eight planned Milgem corvettes will be built by the winner of a new competition.
The remaining four of eight planned Milgem corvettes will be built by the winner of a new competition. (Turkish Naval Forces)
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ANKARA — Turkey is expanding its coastal defenses to counter conventional and nonconventional security threats, primarily in the Aegean and Mediterranean, including massive illegal emigration.

Tens of thousands of immigrants from Turkish soil end up at the shores of EU member Greece’s eastern Aegean islands every year. But on Dec. 16, Turkey and the EU signed a treaty that will allow EU member states to return illegal immigrants to Turkey.

In return, Turkey hopes the EU will ease visa restrictions on Turkish nationals in the next three years.

“The new circumstances prompt us to better safeguard human trafficking on the Aegean Sea,” a senior naval officer admits. “We are planning to upgrade surveillance kits and equipment” to combat the problem.

“Turkey’s geographical features naturally make most naval programs feature littoral warfare specifications,” the official said. “The Turkish Navy has no ambitions for open-seas operations, so its primary role is littoral defense.”

Turkey is bordered by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean to the south and the Aegean to the west. In the northwest, there is also the internal Sea of Marmara, between the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, important waterways that connect the Black Sea with the rest of the world. The Turkish coastline is 4,474 miles, excluding islands.

In August, Turkish defense electronics specialist Aselsan won what defense analysts view as an ambitious contract to design, develop and produce a strategic, multimission phased-array radar known by its Turkish acronym, CAFRAD Faz-1.

The CAFRAD radar will be similar to the ALPHA multimission M-2258 advanced lightweight phased-array naval radar developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elta for bluewater and littoral warfare support.

Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense firm, will work on CAFRAD with state scientific research institute TÜBITAK. The first phase will see development of an illumination radar and a nonrotating identification friend-or-foe system. The second will involve the development of long-range surveillance and multifunctional radars.

Aselsan officials said the CAFRAD demonstrator will define the primary antenna mast architecture for the TF-2000, an air defense frigate Turkey has been developing, and for the vessel’s combat management and area air defense missile systems. They say the work would focus on more sophisticated tests and development after 2014.

“Turkey’s geography makes it a must to devise and build a strong littoral warfare architecture,” the senior naval officer said. “Several [Navy] weapon programs feature a two-pronged approach to handle conventional and nonconventional threats.”

This two-pronged approach requires fast boats, patrol boats, coastal radars, landing ships, maritime patrol aircraft, corvettes, submarines and other amphibious platforms, as well as support units such as electronic and command-and-control systems designed to fight terrorist attacks.

For instance, the government in 2013 signed a deal with military software specialist Havelsan for the procurement of coastal surveillance radars for the Coast Guard.

While Turkey’s frigates and submarines sail in open waters, a general lack of supply and support ships makes it difficult for the Navy to conduct long-term blue-water missions, so its naval defense concept is primarily littoral-based.

Turkey announced in late December it had awarded a contract for the country’s first landing platform dock (LPD) to local shipyard Sedef, which is partnered with Spain’s Navantia. The vessel will have a primarily littoral mission.

The planned amphibious assault vessel will carry a battalion-sized unit of 1,000 troops and personnel, eight utility helicopters, three UAVs and 150 vehicles, including battle tanks. A ski jump at the front of the deck can be used to launch fighter aircraft.

If contract negotiations with Sedef conclude in a deal, estimated between $500 million and $1 billion, Turkey will be the third operator in the world of this ship type after Spain and Australia.

In a separate effort last January, Turkey’s decision-maker on procurement, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, awarded a corvette contract for six vessels to RMK Marine, an Istanbul shipyard owned by the country’s biggest business group, Koc Holding. The government later scrapped that decision after an inspection body found that some rival shipyards had not been invited to bid. The bidding has been renewed.

Procurement officials have said two of a total of eight Milgem corvettes would now be built by the military shipyards, and the remaining four (the first two had been delivered by the military shipyards) would be commissioned to the winner of the new race.

Each vesselwould cost Turkey $300 million to $350 million, the officials said. Turkey plans to use the experience gained in the Milgem project to develop its first national frigate, the TF-2000, in the 2020s.

Turkey’s development of naval UAVs also is designed to ensure coastal security.

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has been developing and test-flying the Anka, a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone. Such UAVs may operate for 24 hours at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Turkish procurement and TAI officials say they are working on a program to add satellite communications capabilities to the Anka. In later years, TAI also will develop a naval version of the drone. ■

Email: bbekdil@defensenews.com.

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