ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has just officially begun constructing its first landing platform dock (LPD) but the country's president already is talking about future production of an aircraft carrier and even a nuclear vessel.
The production of the TCG Anadolu, Turkey's first amphibious assault ship, kicked off last month at a high-profile ceremony attended by defense and procurement VIPs and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Speaking at the ceremony, Erdogan praised efforts for Turkey's all indigenous development programs, including the LPD, although he called the ship's production "a belated move."
He said that Turkey's dependence on foreign arms systems has dropped from 80 percent in 2002 — when his government came to power — to 40 percent. "We must aim at zero dependency by the year 2023," he said.
Erdogan said that the LPD program would hopefully be the first step toward producing a "most elite" aircraft carrier. Then he upped Turkey's naval ambitions.
"I see it as a major deficiency that we still do not have a nuclear vessel," he said.
But officials and experts are cautious.
"I am not sure if we can afford such ventures in the short-run," said one procurement official. "I am not sure, either, if such grand designs would fit our security threat perceptions."
A London-based Turkey specialist said: "The idea [about a carrier and a nuclear vessel] goes in line with Turkey's political ambitions. All the same, I'd say, it is as much over-ambitious as Turkey's political designs."
In 2013, Turkey announced that it had selected the local shipyard Sedef for its LPD program. In the LPD contract, Sedef is partnered with Spain's Navantia.
The planned amphibious assault vessel will carry a battalion-sized unit of 1,200 troops and personnel, eight utility helicopters and three unmanned aerial vehicles; it also will transport 150 vehicles, including battle tanks.
It also may have an aircraft platform for vertical takeoff and landing. A ski jump at the front of the deck can be used to launch fighter aircraft.
Metin Kalkavan, chairman of Sedef, told reporters that it was not clear at this stage whether the TCG Anadolu would feature a ski jump. "We'll decide on that at later stages of the program," he said.
Industry sources estimate the cost of the contract at over $1 billion.
Under the original production plan the 231-meter-long vessel will be completed within 5½ years. But Erdogan urged Sedef to deliver the vessel within four years.
"That way," Erdogan said during the ceremony, "you can win further contracts from foreign customers as well as from our government."
The TCG Anadolu will be deployed on the Aegean Sea, Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, as well as on Turkish Navy's operations in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Turkey will be the third operator in the world of this ship type after Spain and Australia.
Last year, two Turkish defense firms won more than €200 million (US $343 million) worth of subcontracts in the LPD program
The companies, Aselsan and Havelsan, both state-controlled, announced that the contracts they signed with Sedef involve warfare and electronic systems and their integration.
Military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey's biggest defense company, signed a deal for €127 million. Its work includes communications, satellite and IFF systems, 12.7mm STAMP and 25mm STOP guns, acoustics, sonars, radars, electronic warfare systems, infrared tracking systems, laser warning systems, and cruise systems.
Havelsan's work, worth €87 million, includes a network-supported warfare management system (ADVENT), ship data distribution, a CCTV system, the Link 11/16/22 tactical communications system, an amphibious mission force command center, a landing force command center, and a command, control and information system.
A naval industry official said that programs like LPD would significantly benefit the local industry in earning them capabilities which they did not possess before.
"It is not just the amount of money that will flow into local companies. More importantly it will be the technological capabilities they will learn to produce and improve in further contracts of this type," he said.
Burak Ege Bekdil is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News. He has written for Hurriyet Daily News, and worked as Ankara bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC-e television. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum and regularly writes for the Middle East Quarterly and Gatestone Institute.