ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s procurement agency has invited bids for the construction of three I-class frigates under its national corvette program, dubbed MILGEM.

The Presidency of Defence Industries, or SSB, issued a request for proposals on Dec. 22 for the construction of the sixth, seventh and eighth ships under the MILGEM program.

“Local industry content for the three ships will be higher than those built previously,” claimed Ismail Demir, who leads SSB. “The ships will be 100% Turkish design.”

Under the MILGEM effort, Ada-class corvettes TCG Heybeliada entered service in 2011, TCG Buyukada in 2013, TCG Burgazada in 2018 and TCG Kinaliada in 2019. The fifth ship, I-class frigate TCG Istanbul, is currently under construction, with a delivery date of 2023. SSB says the first five ships contain 75% local material.

The I-class frigates will perform reconnaissance and surveillance; target traction and identification; early warning of adversarial activities; base and port defense; anti-submarine, anti-aircraft and surface warfare; amphibious operations; and patrolling missions.

According to the RFP, only local shipyards or foreign subsystem suppliers partnered with a local shipyard are allowed to bid. SSB also requires that bidders previously built a surface navy platform or is currently building one in partnership with the Turkish government.

An SSB official familiar with the program said the I-class frigates will be powered by foreign engine technology. He said SSB expects Turkey’s largest defense firm, military electronics specialist Aselsan, to supply a wide range of systems, including anti-submarine, anti-aircraft and surface warfare technology; reconnaissance and surveillance systems; anti-asymmetric warfare capabilities; command-and-control technology; self-defense systems; defensive laser warning tech; infrared trail management systems; electronic support; torpedo jamming; and chaff and decoy systems.

“We expect nearly 250 local companies to take part in the frigate program,” the official told Defense News on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Some of the subsystems required for the program include:

  • The 76mm TAKS firing control system
  • The KULAC echo sounder system
  • Two ANS-510 gyro systems
  • The WECDIS cruise control and monitoring system
  • The Link 11 data terminal set
  • 76mm gun integration
  • The 12.7mm STAMP weapon
  • Advanced Harpoon Weapon Control System integration for the Harpoon Block II surface-to-surface missile

Industry sources said the Turkish companies likely to bid for a contract include Anadolu Shipyard, Sefine Shipyard, Sedef Shipyard, TAIS Shipyards, Istanbul Shipyard, Dearsan Shipyard, RMK Marine, Desan Shipyard, Ares Shipyard and Yonca-Onuk.

Turkey’s procurement and naval officials had long been divided over whether to build one or three frigates, and whether private shipyards or a Turkish Navy shipyard should administer the program.

“SSB favored the idea to go for a private shipyard, calculating that this option could create export opportunities for the local shipbuilding industry. The Navy, on the other hand, wanted to build the ships at its own shipyard, citing that possible modification of specifications or design during the construction process would bring in extra costs if the contract was awarded to a private shipyard,” said Ozgur Eksi, a defense analyst in Ankara.

Turkey’s per capita income fell for the seventh consecutive year to $7,000 in 2021 from $12,500 in 2012. The official inflation rate is at 22%, but independent economists say it exceeds 50%. The Turkish lira has lost a third of its value against major Western currencies since September. But the decision to have three frigates built instead of one at a time of budgetary constraints is a geostrategic message, Eksi explained.

“The political authority is telling Turkey’s regional adversaries that it will not reconcile in geostrategic disputes in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean seas,” he said. “Pressing the button for three new frigates, Ankara is sending the message that it will not back down on any naval challenge.”

In the summer of 2020, the Aegean Sea was host to a geopolitical tug of war. Turkey and Greece declared one NAVTEX after another — a means of transmitting urgent marine safety information to ships worldwide.

Turkey sent a survey vessel to the disputed continental shelf just 6.5 nautical miles off the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Turkish military figures suggested Turkey could close the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits to Greek and Cypriot ships.

In response, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened his national security council. “We are in complete political and operational readiness,” the council said in a statement following its meeting.

On Aug. 14, 2020, the Hellenic Navy frigate Limnos and Turkey’s frigate TCG Kemalreis collided in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Pro-government media in Turkey suggested the military invade 16 Greek islands in response.

Burak Ege Bekdil was the Turkey correspondent for Defense News.

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