Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
Despite, US sanctions on its national defense industry, Turkey is indeed marching towards achieving self-reliance in military production and modernization of its armed forces. The world-fame of its armed drones & UAVs (Azerbaijan-Armenia war, Syria, Libya, Kurds), prototype testing of armed helicopter engine, electronic warfare, modern submarines and tanks all showcase its “superiority” against its regional “competitors” and “enemies” too.
Most recently, for the further strengthening of its National Defense System (NDS)Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched the country’s first indigenous frigate Istanbul (F-515) and pledged to take the country’s navy to a very strong position with five major projects in the coming years.
Indigenous frigate is produced as part of the MILGEM project, a National Warship Program (NWP). According to the Turkish Presidency of Defense Industries (January 23, 2021), it was designed & developed with national resources, and over 75 percent of its systems are of indigenous manufacture. The 113 meter-long frigate would perform Advanced Air Defense (AAd) and Surface Warfare (SWs), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASWs), and patrol activities. It is expected to be delivered to Turkey’s Naval Forces Command in 2023.
While speaking to launching ceremony for the frigate and welding ceremony of the third ship under “Pakistan MILGEM” corvette project Turkish president Erdogan showcased his country’s capabilities in diverse fields of military training, production and modernization due to which Turkey has been rated among the 10 countries that can design, build, and maintain its own warship in the world. It is indeed a great “ strategic achievement” of brotherly country Turkey which has been debarring from purchasing modern electronic warfare system, ballistic missiles and fighter jets by the USA and the EU.
It has multiplier socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic effects. It will definitely, further strengthen its naval defense, professional and tactical preparedness against any external aggression in the days to come. It will also protect Turkish blue economy’s commercial and business interests in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and Arabian Sea in the future. Turkish more than 87 percent trade is carried out via maritime ports and a number of transnational pipelines passing through Turkish territorial waters which will be now protected through the country’s enhanced naval capabilities.
Along with the launch of the Istanbul frigate, the ceremony also marked the groundbreaking of the third ship to be constructed for the Pakistani navy under the MILGEM project. Turkish president Erdoğan highlighted the “extraordinary” defense relations between the two countries. He termed bilateral ties as “historic” and “trustworthy” with desire to help each other in “defying” emerging geopolitical and geostrategic threats.
The Pakistan Navy inked an agreement with Turkey’s Military Factory and Shipyard Management Corporation (ASFAT) in July 2018 to acquire four MILGEM-class ships.
The MILGEM project was initiated in 2000 to locally design and build a fleet of multipurpose corvettes and frigates that will replace older ships. Turkey has built four corvettes so far in line with the program, namely the TCG Heybeliada, the TCG Büyükada, the TCG Burgazada and the TCG Kınalıada, while the fifth vessel, the first MILGEM I-class frigate of its kind, the Istanbul Frigate, was recently added to the inventory of the Turkish military with Saturday’s ceremony.
The MILGEM project was launched to build corvettes and frigates to be used for a wide range of purposes, including reconnaissance, surveillance, early warning, anti-submarine warfare, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air warfare, and amphibious operations.
It will put into service six of its new submarines starting in 2022 with Piri Reis. Turkey is boasting significant skills in Submarine Technology (ST). It has already started its Stealth Submarine Project (unmanned) which will be completed within next two years. President also projected significance of Turkish drones and UAVs technologies and rated it best among the first three to four countries globally in terms of the production of unmanned and armed unmanned aerial vehicles. Furthermore he highlighted that Turkey will take Gokdeniz, the naval version of Korkut low-altitude air defence system into the inventory for the first time with Istanbul frigate.
He outlined his future road map by narrating that an aircraft carrier will also be designed indigenously, following Anadolu Ship. Hopefully, it will take Turkey to the top league in the field. In this connection, world has already acknowledged Turkey’s superiority in diverse fields of military production as seven Turkish companies, including two new entries, have made it to the list of the world’s top 100 defence firms.
The US-based publication the Defense News (2019-2020) focuses Turkish emerging strength in military production. During 2020-2021 the number of Turkish companies on the “Top 100 List” upgraded to seven from five.
Turkey had launched four frigates in recent years. Turkey made a big investment in improving its naval defences in the last decade, increasing the number of warships and military vessels and relying on homegrown technology.
In recent years, Ankara has not only increased its number of vessels and warships, protecting its coasts and sailing in international waters, but also made self-sufficiency a priority to upgrade its naval force, relying on its own native sources to decrease dependency on outside powers.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has drastically increased defence spending and has worked diligently to promote state cooperation with native defence contractors.
The Turkish Navy has had 112 military vessels until now, but Ankara plans to add a total of 24 new ships, which include four frigates, before the Republic reaches the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2023.
Turkey desires to compete with its Mediterranean neighbours on equal terms to claim its marine rights in the region by improving its naval capabilities, which are also crucial to secure the country’s vital economic interests.
The Turkish defense industry has taken a significant leap from 2002, increasing from 62 to almost 700. Due to which Turkey has become a country that develops its domestic industry but also meets the needs of its allies.
Being prominent regional expert I term the launching and inclusion of indigenous frigate Istanbul (F-515) and welding ceremony of the third ship under “Pakistan MILGEM” corvette project is a “paradigm shift” in the regional security. It will definitely, safeguard Turkey’s trade & commerce activities, oil & gas exploration and defend its coastal areas from any external aggression. It will also further strengthen Pak-Turkey military cooperation in “real sense” in the days to come.