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Turkey’s new naval vessel contract causes alarm

9 May 2015

“Turkey has taken a major step in altering the naval balance in the eastern Mediterranean by contracting the construction of a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship that can function as an aircraft carrier, potentially providing Turkey an unprecedented measure of sea control in the region”, Michael Tanchum writes in an article published by Israel’s daily ‘Jerusalem Post’.

Turkey’s Under-secretariat of Defence Industries and Turkish shipyard Sedef Shipbuilding Inc. have signed a contract to build Turkey’s first landing platform dock (LPD) on Thursday, this move was interpreted as “alarming” for Israel, Greece and South Cyprus as it would change the whole security balance in Eastern Mediterranean.

The LPD, expected to be completed by 2021, is a part Turkey’s national ship (MİLGEM) project and the country’s recent moves to develop and improve its own defense industry. Weighing 27,436 tons, 231 meter-long ship will be able to carry 1,200 personnel as well as tanks, helicopters, drones and warplanes with capability of vertical landing and take-off. If built with a ‘ski-jump’ ramp flight deck, the LPD can also be used by some airplanes with horizontal landing and take-off capability. The ship will also include a fully equipped hospital.

The contract was signed during IDEF’15 defence fair, which was a venue to demonstrate Turkey’s booming defence industry.

Spanish shipbuilder Navantia will provide technical assistance for construction of the ship, which will be modeled after Juan Carlos I class L-61 ship used by the Spanish Navy. Tanchum states the LPD will be at least seven times heavier than the largest ships currently possessed by the Turkish navy. Navantia will also build two landing helicopter docks (LHD) for Australia, the HMAS ‘Canberra’ and HMAS ‘Adelaide’, which would be the largest ships of Australian Navy once commissioned.

The LPD will be able to sail non-stop for 50 days, having a range of up to 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 kilometres), which would give the Turkish Navy a strong presence, even in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

In ‘Jerusalem Post’, Tanchum stated that Turkey’s move will affect Israel, Greece and South Cyprus’ decision on cooperating to extract and export natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean, while claiming that a comprehensive regional agreement depends on Turkey’s diplomatic moves. He added that the country cannot economically win a naval arms race, pointing out that the LPD alone will cost between $500 million to $1 billion.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, Greece and Greek Cyprus have been more than willing to explore, extract and export the gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean while leaving Turkey out of the equation, interpreted as a quick solution for their financial problems and further pressuring Turkey to give more concessions on an isolated Turkish Cyprus.

Trying to emphasise that Turkey’s move primarily targets Israel, Greece and Greek Cyprus, Tanchum quotes the Commander of the Turkish Navy, Admiral Bülent Bostanoğlu, in a speech related to MILGEM, in which he stated an “energy-based” maritime threat perception for Turkey, while the Eastern Mediterranean was the navy’s “highest priority.” Tanchum also points out that Turkey has begun to list Israel within the National Security Policy Document (Milli Guvenlik Siyaseti Belgesi) in 2010, quoting then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stating that“The Eastern Mediterranean will see Turkish battleships frequently.”

‘Sabah’ states that Turkey’s move came at a time when North Africa, the Mediterranean region, the Ukraine and the Black Sea, are in turmoil.

In 2011, during the height of Libyan Civil War, Turkey successfully managed to evacuate its citizens along with many foreign nationals, as well as many wounded Libyans to be treated in Turkish hospitals. To conduct these operations, Turkey had to spare two civilian ferries operating in the Marmara Sea. In the last four years, similar scenarios were replayed in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, and Turkey had to evacuate thousands of its citizens from conflict zones and played an important humanitarian role as a leading country in the region.

The need for a ship to properly conduct such operations, while empowering the Turkish Navy and its responsive capability, had long been stressed by Turkish strategists and media circles.

Meanwhile, 2010 was the year that ten unarmed activists were killed by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) when their flotilla carrying humanitarian aid was unlawfully raided in the Eastern Mediterranean’s international waters.

Daily Sabah, Jerusalem Post

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