ISTANBUL — The Turkish government is about to finalize its efforts to ink two major naval export deals totaling between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, official sources said on condition of strict anonymity.
"This will be the largest ever export deal for Turkey’s local industry," one source said.
An official from Turkey’s procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM in its Turkish acronym) did not comment, saying that it would be up to the government when and how to announce such big deals. But a senior shipyard executive confirmed "matured" talks with both countries. "The government will announce it when it thinks is the good time to announce."
The official source said one of the deals, with Saudi Arabia, would involve the sale of at least two I-class (Istanbul-class) MILGEM corvettes or frigates. Industry sources said each vessel, coming in at 3-3.5 tons, would cost between $300 million and $500 million.
Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said recently that a big export deal with Saudi Arabia would soon be finalized, but he and other officials kept the content of the deal top secret. A Defense News report on May 3 speculated that the deal may involve naval platforms.
At the beginning of the year Turkey began constructing the first I-class frigate for the Turkish Navy. The TCG Istanbul will be the country's fifth locally designed warship after four Ada-class anti-submarine corvettes under the MILGEM program. Turkish officials said the MILGEM program was 65 percent Turkish.
The I-class frigate now going to Saudi Arabia is variant of the Ada-class corvette with a longer hull (by 14 meters) and heavier displacement (3,000-tons vs. 2,400-tons). It has similar anti-submarine warfare capabilities but also features a vertical launch system for a medium-range surface-to-air missile. It has 16 additional sub-sonic anti-ship missiles compared to eight on the Ada-class vessel.
The I-class frigate will be configured with a Mk.41 vertical launch system with the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. Both classes of vessels will be armed with one 76 mm main gun, two 12.7 mm guns, Mk. 46 lightweight anti-submarine warfare torpedoes, and RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile. It will also feature a hangar and flight deck for a naval utility helicopter.
The official said the deal with Pakistan, valued at about $1 billion, will involve four Ada-class ships weighing 2-2.5 tons.
"We cannot offer a vessel with Sea Sparrow missile capabilities to a non-NATO country," the official said. "Hence the suitability of the Ada-class vessels for Pakistan."
Turkey substantially saved in its I-class program by re-using the Ada-class platforms. Naval experts also say hull commonality will lead to maintenance savings in infrastructure.
Turkey's naval industry has flourished in recent years. The production of the TCG Anadolu, Turkey's first amphibious assault ship, kicked off recently.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the Landing Platform Dock LPD program would hopefully be the first step toward producing a "most elite" aircraft carrier. Then he upped Turkey's naval ambitions that the country would also need a nuclear vessel.
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 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. Industry sources estimate the cost of the contract at over $1 billion.
Under the original production plan the 231-meter-long vessel was to be completed within five and a half years. But Erdogan urged Sedef to deliver the vessel within four.
Burak Ege Bekdil is the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.