How Turkey became a strong naval power in recent years

  • 2 Jan 2020

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.

TCG Anadolu, which is pictured in Istanbul's Tuzla district, occupies a special place because the warship is Turkey’s first light aircraft carrier.. ( AA )

Turkey, a country between Europe and Asia, bordering three seas on its northern, western and southern flanks, has made a lot of efforts in recent years to advance its Navy to a level where it could compete with world powers. 

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. 

“Although lawmakers have long nurtured a desire to make Turkey less dependent upon foreign weaponry and technology, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s government has dramatically increased defence spending and has worked diligently to promote state cooperation with native defence contractors,” wrote Ryan Gingeras, a professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, and an expert on Turkish, Balkan, and Middle East history. 

Since 2007, Turkey’s spending on research and development has significantly increased, tripling its previous levels, according to a survey conducted by a leading defence industry group. Last year, it passed $1.2 billion, the survey showed. 

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's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, bottom centre, accompanied my officials pose for photographs during the launch of a new Turkish Navy ship, in Tuzla, outside Istanbul on July 3, 2017.(AP Archive)

Turkey’s star: TCG Anadolu

Among them, TCG Anadolu occupies a special place because the warship is Turkey’s first light aircraft carrier, enabling the country to join the club of aircraft carriers. But Anadolu, which is scheduled to join the Turkish Navy’s active operations this year, means more than that for Turkey. 

Anadolu is “the largest Turkish warship since TCG Yavuz, a former German battlecruiser transferred in dramatic fashion in 1914,” wrote Richard Parley, an American military writer and lecturer, in February. 

“Anadolu will offer the Turkish Navy unprecedented amphibious assault capability in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Parley estimated.  

Turkish officials visit to see the construction of TCG Anadolu, Turkey's first aircraft carrier built by a native company, in Istanbul's Tuzla port in November 2019.(AA)

The warship, which is being built by a joint consortium including Spanish firm Navantia and a native company, Sedef Shipbuilding Inc, in Turkey, shows the country’s ambition to be a dominant force in the Mediterranean Sea like the Ottoman Empire, the country’s predecessor state, had been in the 16th Century. 

“History shows us that the country that possesses naval power is always destined to be supreme. And the country that does not have naval power is weakened. We needed this power yesterday and we need it today, and we will need it tomorrow," said Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defence minister, in September during the landing ceremony of TCG Kinaliada, which is produced under the country’s national programme. 

In undated picture, Turkey's TCG Kinaliada, which is built under the country's national programme, sails in Turkish waters.(AA)

At its full capacity, Anadolu will be able to displace 27,000 tons, with a length of 231 metres with a width of 32 metres, and can also reach speeds of 21 knots, which nearly equals to 39 kilometres per hour. 

The formidable warship can also carry four mechanised, two air-cushioned and two military personnel landing vehicles along with helicopters and drones. 

“Turkey’s plans to build and deploy the carrier Anadolu is but one indication of Ankara’s overall push to develop and expand its national defence industry,” Gingeras noted.  

Why Turkey invests much in naval forces

Turkey wants 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. 

“With more than 87 percent of the country’s trade conducted via maritime ports of entry, and a number of transnational pipelines passing through Turkish territorial waters, the country’s naval capabilities have come to figure more prominently in contemporary Turkish thinking,” Gingeras wrote

Turkey's 230-meter (750-foot) drillship 'Yavuz' escorted by a Turkish Navy vessel, crosses the Marmara Sea on its way to the Mediterranean, from the port of Dilovasi, outside Istanbul on June 20, 2019.(AP Archive)

As a result, Turkey has recently bought two exploration ships, Fatih and Yavuz, to compete with regional rivals and enhance its offshore technology in the field of gas and other marine exploration efforts in East Mediterranean, where rich gas reserves have been recently discovered. 

“A desire to stake a claim to natural gas deposits off the coast of Cyprus has especially stirred the attention of policymakers in Ankara. The commencement of Turkish drilling operations, as well as rumoured plans for the building of a new Turkish naval base in northern Cyprus, are among the most recent signs that planners intend to project greater influence over the eastern Mediterranean,” Gingeras viewed. 

Ankara recently signed a critical maritime agreement with Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National accord (GNA), signalling Mediterranean powers that without Turkey’s participation or approval, no gas routes could be truly secured. 

In addition to its economic interests, Turkey also seeks to have a powerful naval presence in its three seas, which it calls as “Blue Homeland”, to ensure its national security. 

A Turkish assault boat is pictured during Turkey's Blue Homeland exercises in March 2019.(AA)

In March, Ankara showed the world its sincerity about building a powerful native naval force, conducting the country’s biggest maritime exercises simultaneously with more than 100 military vessels in its three seas. The exercises are also named after “Blue Homeland”. 

Beyond the Mediterranean and its other national waters, Turkey has also expanded its naval presence by deploying its forces to faraway countries, from Somalia to Sudan and Qatar, accessing areas from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and the Gulf.